Babies start collecting info about sounds and words from the get-go, but it takes a really long time for them to actually learn how to talk. Talking is hard work! Your baby’s lips, tongue, and throat need to figure out how to move together with perfect split-second teamwork in order to form words. In fact, it takes most kids two to three years to get really good at speaking. But that doesn’t mean you need to wait that long to communicate with your little one! A great way to jump-start your child’s ability to “talk” is to teach them how to sign.

You can begin signing to your baby whenever you like, just know that your precious bub won’t have the skill set to sign back until they’re at least 6 months old. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand you! By the time your baby is one, their right brain will be an expert at reading gestures. That means if you’re not already signing by your tot’s first birthday, it’s a great time to start. Heck, your baby may have started without you! For instance, some young toddlers will do something like raise their hands whenever they want to leave. Tuned-in parents can copy-cat that cue and “tell” their tot it’s time to go with the same signal. (Genius, right?) Here, some tips, tricks, and signs to help kick start your baby sign language journey.

Are there any baby sign language rules?

No! While, sure, baby signs can easily be the same as those used in American Sign Language (ASL), they don’t have to be. Just like some babies and toddlers make up their own signs, you can, too. The only real “rules” you need to follow is simplicity and consistency. Think about which words your baby hears the most and start there. Practice signing often and have others use the same signs when communicating with your baby, too. And, finally, always say the word for the sign slowly and clearly as you make the sign. Here are some easy signs—and how-tos—to start you off!

Baby Sign for More

As in, I’d like some more milk, please! Here, you pinch your thumbs and fingers together on both hands, creating two ovals, then bring your hands together for a few quick tap-tap-taps.

Baby Sign for All done

This sign is a way cleaner alternative to the traditional toss-food-on-floor cue. For this sign, go ahead and mimic the ASL sign for “finished” which involves putting your hands up, palms toward you, then turning them with your palms facing out. (It’s as if you’re showing your baby that there’s nothing in your hand.)

Baby Sign for Eat / Food

Remembering the sign for eat is easy: Simply pretend you’re about to put a bit of food in your mouth by flattening your fingers on top of your thumb, then bring your fingertips to your mouth.

Baby Sign for Drink

Next time you want to ask your tot if they'd like something to drink, make a C shape with your hand, like you’re holding an invisible cup. Next, move your “cup” to your mouth as if you’re about to take a sip. 

Baby Sign for Poop

If you’re an early potty-trainer, this sign is especially helpful: Make a thumbs-up with one hand and hold your other hand, loosely fisted, above. Next, slide the bottom thumbs-up inside of the above fist. Then, pull your bottom thumb-up hand down from the upper fist, leaving your thumb extended. (It’ll look kind of like your upper hand is pooing out the lower hand…very effective, we know.)

Baby Sign for Sleep

Is it almost time for night-night? Do you want to ask your love if they’re tired? Try this sign for sleep: Hold one hand over your forehead, palm toward you, fingers spread. Next, bring your hand down over your face, all the while pulling your fingers to your thumb, until they come together at your chin. For added effect: As your hand drops down your face, you could droop your eyelids closed.

Baby Sign for Milk

For this one think more bovine than breast: Hold two fists in front of you, then repeatedly squeeze both as if you’re milking a cow.

Baby Sign for Bath

Need to give your tot a heads up that, soon, playtime will morph into bathtime? Show them the sign for bath: Make two fists (thumb-side to the sky) then move them up and down in front of your chest. To remember this baby sign, imagine that you are scrubbing your chest in the tub.

Baby Sign for Book

This one is pretty intuitive: Put your hands together with your thumbs facing up. Then, open your hands flat like a book, keeping the pinkie-sides of your hands together, acting like the “book’s”  spine.

Baby Sign for No

While we’d love our days to be filled with joyful Yeses, sometimes a stern No is in order, like when you need to keep your little one safe from harm. For the No sign, on one hand, extend your thumb as well as your index and middle fingers (which you’ll hold together). Next, quickly snap the two fingers to the thumb. Don’t forget to shake your head and say No at the same time!

For more on successfully communicating with your tyke, read The Happiest Toddler on the Block along with these articles:

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