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basic signs to teach your toddler

Both of my children learned basic signs or “infant sign” as toddlers.  As a mom and a speech and language pathologist (SLP), I was eager (maybe too eager?) to begin communicating with my children.  I felt that it would reflect poorly on me as an SLP if my children did not meet or beat their communication milestones.  Fear of failure is a very powerful motivator.

As a speech pathologist, I have taught many children and families how to use basic signs to help ease the frustrations brought on by communication breakdowns.  It is heart-breaking to watch a toddler meltdown out of frustration from not being understood by his parent.  I have experienced this as both a parent and an SLP.

Some basic signs to teach young children

You’d be surprised how far a few basic signs will get you when trying to understand a young child. Shortly after birth, infants are able to understand language. However, they usually are not able to produce speech until after 12 to 24 months of age. As parents, we are left to wonder what in the world is going on inside their little heads.  While their little mouths are slowly maturing, their little hands are hard at word gaining greater dexterity. By teaching your child gestures or signs as well as spoken words, they are more quickly able to understand and communicate with the world around them.

I know what you’re thinking…But I want my child to talk, won’t singing slow that down? 

The answer is nope!

In fact, research has shown that signing with your pre-verbal child is beneficial to them.  It encourages earlier communication and enables a child to be an active communicator at a much earlier age. He can initiate communication exchanges instead of being a passive observer.

The good news is that infant sign is easy! The purpose is not for your child to be certified in ASL but for you to be able to communicate with each other.

My TOP 10 first signs:

Picture this:  It’s dinner time.  Your toddler suddenly begins screaming and kicking in his highchair and throws his food onto the floor.  Mom gets upset and yells “NO”.  Toddler cries louder.  Mom feels guilty.  Meal is over and the floor needs cleaning.

Could this be avoided?  Maybe or maybe not.  But imagine if that same angry toddler were able to sign “all done” prior to flinging the food.  Or if that mom were able to look at her fussy toddler and ask “All done?” before the meal went flying.  The floor may still need to be cleaned (at least in my house it would) but the tears and screams would probably be lessened or eliminated completely.

Here are the 10 first signs I’ve used as a mom and an SLP: 

  1. More
  2. All Done
  3. Please
  4. Want
  5. Mom
  6. Dad
  7. Eat
  8. Drink
  9. Help
  10. Sleep

The following website gives explanations of signs and videos to show how to make the sign. Signs are provided in alphabetical order: (link: )

A sign and a smile

Make signing fun for your child.  Make it motivating.  Model the sign, encourage your child to imitate you, and immediately reinforce their efforts, no matter how small.

My son, Ethan, is 2 and he is becoming quite a chatterbox.  But despite that, he thinks that all he needs is to sign “please” and flash his big, goofy grin, and he can get anything he wants.  An extra cookie, a forbidden kitchen utensil or even one of big sister’s breakable toys, when he sees what he wants, he starts rubbing his hand back and forth over his chest (his version of “please”) grinning the whole time.  It doesn’t always work, but it sure is cute!

I’m curious, do/did any of you use infant sign with your children?

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