Teaching Manners with Baby Sign Language

The following guest post is from Leigh-Ann of Intentional By Grace:

baby sign language
source: Intentional by Grace

Please and thank you are the magic words. But what about before kids can talk? What about when everything they say comes out in grunts and babbles? Can they learn to say “please” and “thank you”, or are we doomed to just accept the kicks and screams of our toddler until we figure out what they want? Nothing is more frustrating than standing in the kitchen with a two-foot-tall temper tantrum trying to figure out what he wants while you wipe bananas, boogers, and flour from your pants legs.

Teaching your baby sign language is a great way to introduce manners and train your baby’s heart before they begin to speak verbally.

Not only is baby sign language helpful for our children to communicate their needs, but it’s just downright adorable too!

When should you introduce sign language?

We introduced sign language to our son around seven months, but many begin introducing even earlier!

Typically, it is best to introduce sign language to your baby before he/she is twelve months old. By twelve months, they are fully ready to communicate, and if they are already familiar with sign language, they will more quickly begin to sign themselves. So, the best time to start signing with your baby is anywhere between six and twelve months.

What signs should I introduce first?

We started with the basic needs, such as hungry, thirsty, all done, and more. In addition, we demonstrated the signs for milk, water, and other foods that we offered our baby frequently.

We also used sign language for various routines during the day. For example, we signed bath when it was time to get our nightly bath. This signaled to our son that we were moving into our nighttime routine. Other ideas would include diaper change and bedtime.

There is no limit to what you can sign for your baby or toddler!

When will your baby begin to sign?

At around nine months, our son was consistently signing milk and “all done”. How rewarding!

Typically, children will begin signing anywhere from two- weeks to two-months after you begin introducing sign language. It is up to your child and their level of interest in communicating with you when they will truly begin.

Generally, around the time I give up on a sign, my little one decides to insert it into his “vocabulary.” Just be consistent, and they will catch on. Repetition is key!

Here is a sneak peek into my son’s “vocabulary” when he was almost fifteen months old.

What does baby sign language have to do with manners?

Introducing sign language to your children at an early age gives them an opportunity to learn to communicate respectfully. They can make requests politely without getting frustrated while trying to communicate what they want. Their little brains are far more advanced and ready to communicate than we can imagine. Sign language helps to close the language barrier we have with our toddler!

By twelve months, our son was signing a whole slew of requests, and each time he made a request, we would sign please and thank you. Once he showed an ability to sign these requests back, we began to enforce the rule that nothing was received without the sign for please and nothing was kept without the sign for thank you. If he doesn’t respond politely, we gently remove the requested item, and we start all over.

We have been amazed at his mental capacity to understand that please means he gets something and thank you means he gets to keep it. We have had many days where he stubbornly withholds please and thank you. Those days are difficult, but through consistent instruction, his heart softens and becomes more and more compliant.

Our son is now sixteen months old. Our sign language is now being replaced with his verbal exploration. He is repeating words, and showing no signs of verbal delay. He loves to make the sign and then attempt to say the word with us. It is so much fun, and we have very few temper tantrums. For that, I am so thankful.

Fellow mothers, we do not have to accept the temper tantrums as just a phase. We can give our children the tools to make polite requests through careful instruction and the use of sign language!

Have you ever used sign language with your baby?

Leigh Ann’s life goal is to create a home where it is impossible to not think about God. At Intentional By Grace, she blogs about her journey of intentional living in order to make this goal a reality. She is the wife to the man of her prayers, Mark, and mama to a loveable little boy, Samuel. She takes joy in spending her days creating memorable moments with her husband, conducting kitchen experiments, researching every natural alternative known to man, and making her little boy laugh. She does it all by the grace of God.
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