It’s 4 a.m. and your 10-month-old is up and ready to start their day. Within minutes, they’re sobbing hysterically. Are they hungry? No. Do they want to go back to bed? Heck, no. Do they need a diaper change? No. Stuffed elephant? No.

Most parents are all too familiar with this scene. That’s why being able to communicate during these frustrating moments would make everything easier. Thankfully, you can start teaching your child basic sign language before they can talk.

Around 8 to 10 months of age, babies start to try to communicate. They can understand some of what you say, but you can’t understand them. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be?

Here’s how to teach your baby some sign language so you’ll be able to understand their basic wants and needs.

Benefits of Baby Sign Language

In addition to helping prevent tantrums, proponents of baby sign language claim that it has other benefits. According to a study published in Child Development, mothers who sign with their infants are more responsive to their children’s nonverbal cues and encourage more independence.

 A study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that baby sign language promotes language development in infants. Some experts have questioned these findings, but they also say that baby sign language doesn’t delay language learning, either. In other words: It can’t hurt, but it could help.

If you’re interested in teaching your baby to sign, it’s safe to give it a try.

How to Get Started

Babies can start to learn basic sign language between 6 and 10 months of age. Some parents start as early as 4 or 5 months. This may help infants communicate with their parents before they’re able to express themselves verbally.

This can not only be helpful when trying to understand what your baby wants, but it can also be a lot of fun. All of a sudden, you’ll get a peek at their independent thoughts and opinions.

To teach your baby sign language, you’ll need to learn some basic signs. You’ll also need to have a lot of persistence.

Teaching your baby to sign is an opportunity to meet other parents with babies around your child’s age as well. Look online for classes available in your area.

Note: There are no certifications required to teach baby sign language, so be careful and look for a reputable instructor.

Basic Signs

If you’d like to start teaching your baby signs, begin with the basics. Start with these simple signs that will come in handy every day.

MeaningSign
Milkopen and close hand
More bring fingertips together
Mom spread fingers of one hand apart and touch thumb to chin
Dadspread fingers of one hand apart and touch thumb to forehead
Eat bring fingertips to mouth
Drinkhold mimicked cup and bring to mouth
All doneforearms up, rotating hands
Tiredbring extended elbows to chest, then drop elbows

As your child gets more comfortable signing, you can get more specific with words like cheese, juice, upstairs, or napkin.

When you’re ready to learn more words, look on BabySignLanguage.com. It provides free videos of people doing the signs, printable wall charts, and flashcards.

Repetition and Baby Sign Language

When teaching your baby a new word, make the sign for the word while you say it. Repeat this over and over again until your baby learns that the two mean the same thing. Eventually, your child will try to mimic your movements in their quest to communicate with you.

It’s important to remember that it may be months before your child starts trying to sign back. That’s where persistence comes in. But if you stick with it, you and your baby can eventually sit and talk about milk, cats, and dad all day long.

The key to communicating with your baby via sign language is nothing more than repetition and consistency. If you’re able to teach them even just two or three signs, you’ll hopefully experience less frustration over the next few months. Your baby may also have fewer tantrums.

The Takeaway

Teaching baby sign language isn’t for every family. But for those willing to put in the time and effort, it can be a wonderful way to communicate with your child before they’re able to talk.

Children at this age need very basic things: food, sleep, and milk. By teaching them those few signs alone, you now give them the ability to tell you what they need, when they need it. By teaching them even more signs, you can converse with your child for the first time. You’ll begin to learn who they are and what they’re interested in.