Wondering whether to sign with your baby or toddler as a way to communicate? Take a look at these baby sign language pros and cons to better decide whether to teach your child baby sign language.
By: Lane Rebelo
If you’re a new parent, you’ve probably heard about baby sign language, but you might not be sure if it’s for you or not. You might have heard parents say things like “Baby sign language is amazing!” or perhaps you’ve heard others say, “It’s a waste of time.”
What’s a new parent to do? How do you decide if it’s worth the effort or if it’s even right for your family?
Baby sign language pros and cons
I’ll be honest: signing with your baby does take effort to get things rolling. If you’re on the fence and trying to decide if it’s worth it, then this list of baby sign language pros and cons will help you make up your mind.
I’ll outline some of the biggest baby sign language pros and cons, based on years of teaching it to new parents and caregivers, as well as my own experience signing with my two children.
CON: It takes some patience
Parents often ask, “When is the best time to start signing with your baby?” You can start signing with your little any time, whether two-months-old or two-years-old.
However, have realistic expectations. Most babies start signing back in the eight- to 12-month range, so if you do start early, you’ll need to be patient.
Parents who started when their little one was four- or five-months-old were diligent about signing regularly for a month or two, but gave up because they thought it wasn’t working. Unfortunately, they gave up too soon—the majority of babies don’t start signing that early on.
It’s okay to wait until your baby is older to start so you won’t have to wait so long for results. Baby sign language always works—if you stick with it!
PRO: You’ll be able to communicate with your baby much earlier than if you wait for words
Most babies make their first attempt at a spoken word (think “mama,” “dada” and “baba”) around the 12-month mark. Babies who sign have a handful or more of signs before their first birthday and build their sign language vocabulary rapidly.
It’s not uncommon for signing babies to communicate with dozens of signs 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.
CON: It takes effort
While signing isn’t rocket science, you’ll have to make a little effort to get started.
It’s not that hard though—I promise! You don’t have to become fluent in American Sign Language to sign with your baby. You just have to learn enough signs to get started, then build your vocabulary from there.
Yes, it might seem daunting to take on learning something new while you’re still in the midst of adjusting to parenthood, but if a baby can do it, so can you!
PRO: You’ll learn something new
As a new parent, I sometimes felt like my brain was turning to mush just thinking about sleeping, feeding, and changing my little one all day, every day.
Learning something new actually helped me in the fog of caring for my first baby. It stimulated my brain and made me feel so much better. In fact, some parents who sign with their babies enjoy learning American Sign Language so much that they go on to study it more in depth—like me!
CON: Not everyone will support your efforts
If you’re excited to start signing with your baby, you might be disappointed to find that your spouse, your baby’s grandparents, or other caregivers might not share your enthusiasm.
Don’t let this stop you!
I often find that grandparents and significant others come around once the baby starts signing, and they see how helpful and fun it is. So, go for it and trust that others will come along when they see your little one communicating and having a blast with you!
PRO: You’ll feel more confident and connected as a parent
As a new parent, I sometime found myself filled with self-doubt. Am I doing a good job? Is she overstimulated? Understimulated? Bored? Hungry? Tired?
But once my daughter was able to communicate with me through signs, I found my confidence as a parent grew. After all, I knew what she wanted! We were connecting and having a great time. I found parenting more enjoyable once we were able to communicate clearly.
I’ve heard the same from other parents, and I believe it will be the same for you too. Communication is the foundation of all relationships, and signing makes it easier with your infant or young toddler.
CON: You might hit some stumbling blocks
Many parents go into signing with their baby thinking, I’ll just learn a few signs off of YouTube and see what happens.
Unfortunately, without sound advice and a tested strategy to help you get started and keep things on the right track, it’s easy to make common mistakes and pitfalls, which can lead you to quit well before things even get started.
For instance, one common mistake is giving up too soon because parents think their baby isn’t interested or isn’t able to do it. If they had better information and a strategy, they would’ve stuck with it.
Another common mistake is picking the wrong signs to start with. Parents often choose signs they think will be most useful instead of what will be most motivating for their child.
Finally, one last mistake I often see—one I even made myself the first time around—is that parents miss their baby’s first signs. Early signs can look different than what you might expect or have seen in a video or book, often going unnoticed by parents and caregivers.
PRO: You’ll have a blast!
Being able to communicate with your little one is so much fun!
Rest assured, you don’t need DVDs, flashcards, or other tools to use baby sign language—you likely have all you need to have a great time signing with your little one. For instance, you can sign with story books you own and to songs you already know.
All you need are your hands, your voice, and an open mind. Oh, and your phone to capture pictures and videos of your baby signing—you’re going to want to remember this for years to come!
Is baby sign language right for you?
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
I hope you’ve found this walk-through of baby sign language pros and cons helpful. Yes, it will take effort to succeed with baby sign language, but it is easy—and the benefits plenty—if you have good information.
In my book Baby Sign Language Made Easy, I give you the knowledge and insights you need to succeed, and help you pick signs specific to your little one. I also take an in-depth look at how to recognize early versions of signs—for example, each sign in the book comes with tips for recognizing baby’s version.
I’m 100% sure you’ll be so glad to sign with your little one! In fact, I’ve never met a parent who signed with their baby and didn’t think it was an amazing experience. Once your baby starts communicating with you, you’ll be hooked and amazed.
Playful activities for one-year-olds
Looking for ideas to do with your one-year-old? Join my newsletter and grab my printable calendar of activities for one-year-olds! Check them off as you go along, or use the blank template to add your own ideas. Download it below—at no cost to you:
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Lane Rebelo, LCSW, is the founder of Tiny Signs®, an award-winning baby sign language program providing classes, workshops, and professional trainings in the Greater Boston, Massachusetts area and online. She is a licensed social worker and worked for many years with families in and around Boston. Lane began studying American Sign Language in 2006 after her first baby was born and was amazed by all she had to say. She lives with her husband and two daughters in MetroWest Boston.
Tell me in the comments: Which of these baby sign language pros and cons are your biggest concerns or motivation?