Wondering whether to start signing with your baby or toddler? Check out these baby sign language pros and cons to learn more.
My toddler loved to eat, so it was no wonder that some of his favorite signs were “more” and “all done.”
Before then, communicating with him led to frustration for all involved. He wasn’t saying as many words as other kids his age, and my husband and I had to rely on deciphering his grunts and looking at what he was pointing to. Our son was equally upset that we couldn’t figure out what he wanted, leading to plenty of tantrums and fits.
Sign language then became one of the ways we were able to communicate basic words. With consistency, he was finally able to use his “voice” during a time when his verbal words were so limited. And within months, his spoken vocabulary exploded, and he was finally communicating plenty of new words.
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Baby sign language pros and cons
Still, we had our concerns about baby sign language. While we had heard it was an amazing way to start early communication, we also had our hangups about it as well.
So, how do you decide if it’s worth the effort to learn, or if it’s even right for your family? Do you worry that it’ll actually hold him back from speaking, or whether it’s effective for your particular situation?
Below are a few baby sign language pros and cons, based on my own experience signing with my kids. We’ll start with its benefits, followed with a few stumbling blocks you might experience:
Baby sign language pros
- Your nonverbal child can communicate earlier. A baby’s first word (“mama” or “dada” for instance) usually happens around the 12-month mark. But babies who sign might know a handful of signs before their first birthday and build their vocabulary rapidly. It’s not uncommon for signing babies to communicate with dozens of gestures while their speech is still developing. Signing babies can communicate about a wide range of their needs and interests months before they can talk about them.
- You can know what your child wants. It’s all too easy to doubt yourself as a new parent. You might wonder, Am I doing a good job? Is he overstimulated? Bored? Hungry? Tired? But once my son was able to communicate through signs, my confidence grew. After all, I finally knew what he wanted! Parenting became more enjoyable once we were able to communicate clearly.
- Your child gets to participate in back-and-forth conversations. Babies who don’t sign have to wait until they know a few words to speak before holding a conversation. But signing babies can already engage in these social skills early on, helping them build strong bonds with others.
- You learn something new. Learning sign language can help you acquire a new skill and break the fog of parenting exhaustion. It certainly stimulated my brain and gave me a sense of accomplishment.
- You don’t need a lot to learn a new language. Your hands, voice, and facial expressions are the most important tools to have a great time signing with your little one. Want to know the top signs to start with? Check out Baby Sign Language Made Easy by Lane Rebelo for helpful tips and everyday words to learn.
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With all the benefits of baby sign language, what are some of the hurdles you might face, or concerns you might have?
Baby sign language cons
- Most babies start signing between 8-14 months old. While you can always start signing with your baby as early as you want, most may not understand the signs until they’re 8 or 9 months old. Even then, they likely won’t sign back until 10-14 months old. So, don’t feel discouraged if yours doesn’t understand you or sign in return before then. It’s not that she isn’t interested or learning—she may simply be too young.
- It does take effort. Unless you already know American Sign Language (ASL), you have to actually put the effort into learning and remember words to sign. Start with key signs you and your child communicate with each other, especially words that are the most motivating for her. She might not care to learn “sleep” or “please” yet, but might understand “hungry” or “toys.”
- Others might not support your efforts. As excited as you might be about baby sign language, you might be disappointed to find that others don’t share your enthusiasm. You might have caregivers who don’t want to learn new signs, or a partner who disagrees and worries that it’ll delay your child’s speech (it won’t).
- You might rely too much on signing only. As you get proficient with signing, don’t replace spoken language with signs altogether. This deprives your child from hearing words and developing verbal skills. That’s why it’s important to sign and speak the words you’re communicating. In fact, don’t just say, “Milk?” and make its sign. Ask, “Do you want your milk now?” in addition to signing.
- You might miss your baby’s first signs. You might make the mistake of assuming she’s not signing correctly, or isn’t understanding what you’re signing. But an early sign or hand gesture can look different from what you might expect or have seen in a video or book.
I hope you’ve found this walk-through of baby sign language pros and cons helpful. You and your baby get to communicate even when she hasn’t said a single word yet. No more deciphering what she’s pointing to or grunting at when you can see exactly what she wants.
That said, baby sign language has its own obstacles, too. Others might not be on board with communicating with signs, and you’ll likely have to wait until your baby is around 10-14 months before she can sign back.
Still, with baby sign language, I knew more often than not what my little guy wanted—from wanting more food to saying he was all done.
Get more tips:
- How to Encourage Your Toddler to Talk
- How to Use Praise to Encourage Your Child’s Potential
- Why It’s Not Good to Say “Good Job” (and What to Say Instead)
- 7 Benefits of Reading to Your Child You May Not Know
- 1 Year Old Lesson Plans: Activities by Theme
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab your printable calendar of activities for one-year-olds below—at no cost to you: