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Benefits of Baby Sign Language

Updated on February 11, 2009

“I don't know what he wants, I don't understand what he's trying to say. Don't you get it? You walk to school every day with all these children who are normal. I can't talk to my son! I don't know what he wants or what he thinks or what he feels. I can't tell him that I love him, I can't tell him who I am. I want to talk to my son! I don't care what it costs, I don't care if the stupid doctor says it's right or wrong. I want to talk to my son!”

Anyone’s who has seen the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) starring Richard Dreyfuss will remember the heart-wrenching speech above from Mr. Holland’s wife. Much to the heartache of a man whose very life was music, his son was born deaf. Sadly, in those days, the medical community didn’t yet see the value in sign language and education of the deaf. His mother finally broke down in rage one day at the tragedy of not being able to communicate with her child.

To a much lesser degree, mothers of infants experience this frustration on a daily basis. You know your baby is trying to tell you something, but you can’t figure it out. You hold up one item after another, “This? This? This?” in an attempt to relive your child’s frustration.

Those frustrations can be relieved by teaching your child some basic sign language. Thousands of parents have experienced the joy of being able to communicate with their babies. Is it for you? Here are some of the benefits:

1. Less Tantrums and Frustration

Many tantrums stem from the dissatisfaction your child feels with not being able to tell you what they want, need, or are thinking. If you give your child the tools they need to communicate with you, the majority of tantrums are suddenly averted. Children are able to communicate before they are able to use words, so giving them another means of communication opens a needed door for them.

2. Build Vocabulary

Multiple studies have shown that babies who are taught sign language speak earlier, have a larger vocabulary, and possibly become better readers with higher IQs. Much like taking notes on a speech enables an adult to retain more information because they are using more than one of their senses, teaching a baby sign language may enhance their ability to retain information in the same way.

3. Find Our What Your Baby is Thinking

If babies are taught signs for words other than just their needs, they are able to essentially have “conversations” with mom, dad, siblings, and caregivers about a variety of topics that interest them. If your child has an interest in animals for example, you could begin by learning the signs for the pictures of animals in one of their favorite books and sign with the book as you read it to them. After repetition your child learns these signs and is now able to tell you when they see that animal while you’re out and about, when they are looking for their favorite animal toy, or when they are playing and would like to pretend to be an animal . The possibilities are endless!


4. Helps with Motor Skills

Even though babies are not able to perform some signs with as much detail as they require, they can do them closely enough to distinguish the word. And as the child grows, they are able to perform signs with more and more detail. Take the manual alphabet, for instance. I began teaching my three year old a few letters at about eighteen months, starting with the less detailed letters. We’ve continued to learn signs for letters as she’s learned her alphabet. I believe this practice helped with her fine motor skills as she’s grown. She can now sign all the letters in the alphabet.

5. Shows Respect for Your Child

Giving your child a means of communicating with you and then proceeding with that communication shows a child that they matter, thus raising their self-esteem. If you had a guest in your home who didn’t speak your language, it would be the height of bad manners to simply ignore any words or gestures out of them and just feed them, take them to the bathroom, and send them to bed as you saw fit. It isn’t any less rude to do so to your child. They may be crying because they have a wet diaper, but you grow frustrated with their crying wondering why they aren’t accepting the crackers you’re offering them to ease their hunger. You’re not speaking the same language. You show your child respect when you give them a language they can use with you.


The benefits of baby sign language are many more than what I’ve listed here. But even if half of this list was the extent of signing’s payback- it’s worth the attempt, don’t you think?


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