I would like to know when is a good time to start teaching your baby sign language. I heard they won't start signing back to you before 6-7 months so starting before 3 months might be pointless. Any thoughts on when you think would be a good time to start for your sake as well as your baby's?

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    See baby sign language. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 5:17
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    You can start doing knock-knock jokes while they are still in the belly. Works in both directions! ;-) Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 8:38
  • @PålGD - That is an excellent article that everyone who asked, answered or commented on this page should read. Thank you. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 19:20

6 Answers 6


Just do it as normal all the time.

They pick up everything all the time.

That is how children learn by seeing, hearing and experiencing things.

  • This - even if they don't respond, they are observing Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 18:10
  • Absolutely this. I hope nobody considers not talking to their baby just because they're not likely to talk back for a while.
    – user36162
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 10:30

Unless he/she has a hearing impairment just to talk to them. Of course point at the things at the same time, to show what you mean ("You want water?" and point at the bottle) but don't replace talking with signing.

Believe me you'll understand their babbling and they will understand you like any other baby did in the past even without sign language attempts.

Anecdotal evidence: a friend of ours is doing this signing thing with her toddler boy. First of all it looks really odd, like why is she flailing hands when she can simply tell him what she wants? And second the boy is now quite behind with speech development because he can comfortably communicate with his parents using signing and has no need to develop a spoken language.

Trust me your baby will be just fine if you just speak to him/her. All the best.

Updates based on the comments:

  1. I'd suspect that most parents don't know or use the official, true sign language when "signing" with their babies. The name is misleading, it should be called "baby-level hand gestures" as that's what it is. Calling what they do a "sign language" leads to a confusion like we have seen here and it is indeed demeaning to the official, proper sign languages.

    In other words I'm not dismissing American Sign Language, British Sign Language, or any other sign language of any country.

  2. That misunderstanding also led to some accusations of ableism in the comments. There was zero mention of any impairments in the OP's baby or their family, in other words the assumption is that they are able to learn to communicate verbally. If it wasn't the case it would certainly be pointed out in the original question. That makes me assume that the OP doesn't have a real need to sign with her baby and is only considering it because it's trendy in some circles.

This answer is obviously not relevant in a situation where the baby or the family need to use a proper sign language. However to my understanding this is not the OP's case.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 13:50

We incorporated basic signs with our children pretty much right after they started opening their eyes (i.e. around 1 month) and coupled it with words. We are not proficient in sign language, we limited ourselves to 'eat', 'drink', and 'more' and was done with a deliberate goal towards the long game and had demonstrable benefits for us.

Our kids are now 3 & 5 and are 3 year old will sometimes fall back on his sign language when he's extremely upset and that's where the benefits really show. Temper tantrums can make forming his thoughts into words all the more difficult, so having a few signs to help him say what he wants can be very helpful for him to convey his desires without words.

He even uses it at bedtime as his way to say, "I love you," and it is the cutest thing ever.

So to summarize, anytime is fine, but I will say there are benefits to be had. It probably won't prevent temper tantrums from occurring, but it will make them a little easier to handle.

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    Why do tantrums make forming oral words any more difficult than signed words?
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:03
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    @DKNguyen it’s not exactly that oral words are more difficult, but that giving more means of communication is better ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7946112
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 10:23
  • @DKNguyen I can only reflect my lived experiences, but I know that he's still learning language and there can be quite a lot to that. There's knowing the vocabulary, saying the word correctly (or close enough), putting the words in the right order, and enunciating everything clear enough that I can understand him. This might be a big ask if he's just heard a 'no' and is now melting down because I won't let him slide down the stairs headfirst. An easier ask can be to make the sign for 'eat' and show it to me repeatedly, then I can handle some of the thinking by giving him options. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:58

You might as well start early to grow your own vocabulary, and to build the habit for yourself.


We started toilet training our child from roughly day 5, almost by accident. By month 2 or 3, it became clear that the lack of communication was the biggest impediment to success (the baby can't take off their own diaper or climb onto the potty) and it took my dumb brain a few months to come up with sign language. We (the parents) use about 10 signs (of the 25 plus letters that we know - we're very green) as we talk and the baby is currently signing 'milk' to communicate a need (maybe milk). Their verbal communication is still likely months away from catching up based on what I've read. The gross motor stuff is just easier to learn than coordinating the fine motor, breathing and vocalization needed for talking.

The baby made their first poop joke at about 5 months (it wasn't very good, but 5 months!) and it seems clear that babies have a lot going on that they can't express. Right now, our limited vocabulary feels like a missed opportunity.

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    "Their verbal communication is still likely months away from catching up based on what I've read. The gross motor stuff is just easier to learn than the fine motor, breathing and other skills needed for talking." When making questionable statements as facts, please provide support. Yes, gross motor skills come earlier, but "breathing"? What motor skills are needed for speech, and when are they acquired? Is signing a gross motor skill or a fine motor skill, or a combination? It's best to avoid using specific descriptors when they may be misused. Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 19:13
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    @anongoodnurse I should have said 'coordinating' the breathing, fine motor and vocalization skills. Evidence: Simple experiment: perform 2 of three skills to talk instead of whisper or moan. It's possible that talking skills are "hard-wired" and easier than making and releasing a fist or shaking a fist (The 't' would be fine-motor and not required) but I doubt it. I'll happily edit my post to report that my child is talking if it happens before the signing gets accurate - but they'd better hurry up and talk for that to happen.
    – user121330
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 1:04
  • Post notice will remain until statements are supported with a reliable source. Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 17:32
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    Even junior high school students have a lot they can't express. You can see them struggle to get out the words for complicated talks and you can tell they know what it is they want to say, they just don't know how to say it and they seem to know it. Compare this to adults who often seem to not know it and say something different than what they actually mean.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 17:55

What if a baby is born deaf? Once parents learn their baby is profoundly deaf, sign language begins, presumably with a baby that can see. Try imagining (as a hearing person with ear plugs on in a very noisy environment) and attempt to listen to someone talking to you. If you can't hear them, you're deaf and relying on your eyes to see their lips move. Lip reading becomes automatic for a deaf baby and sign language a 'normal' skill learned no differently from learning to speak. A deaf baby immediately focuses their eyes, as all babies do, to the person in direct contact. Signing begins immediately. Sign language is the deaf's way of speaking until old enough to learn speech from professionals in deaf schools. Remember, as a deaf person, if you never heard a sound since birth then how do you know how to create sounds into speech since you're deaf from birth? I'm one of several siblings to an older brother born deaf. Mother, father and the rest of us have normal hearing.

  • This isn't really an answer, as the question isn't about deaf babies, but your post is only about that. Babies can't learn sign language until they can observe someone doing something and make a connection. An answer would be, "You should start to sign when..." Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 21:45
  • I disagree as the question seems open ended and neither refers to a hearing nor non hearing baby. Perhaps the title should make the distinction of a hearing baby's parents asking when to start sign language.
    – F Dryer
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 1:35
  • Perhaps it should, but until it does, let's presume the baby is a "normal" baby in the strict sense of falling within the norm on a bell curve. Open ended questions are not encouraged on Stack Exchange per guidelines. They lead to discussion (like here), not answers ("You should start when...") Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:25

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