Eight Reasons Why Your Baby is Not Signing Yet & Why You Should Not Be Discouraged

Almost on a daily basis we receive questions from moms who are concerned regarding the signing progress of their babies. Based on the most common questions and concerns brought up by all of you we have compiled a list of reasons why you may not be getting the results you expected from baby sign language.

Babies Learn How To sign

Baby is Not Quite Ready to Start Signing

We are constantly exposed to messaging from friends and strangers regarding their own milestones and the milestones of their little ones. As parents we frequently forget about the average and tend to focus only on over-achievers. Just because you just saw a video of a four month old baby signing the ten basic signs it does not mean your baby is ready or developmentally able to do the same. Don’t compare and focus on giving your baby the best chance to learn at their own pace.

Baby is Already Signing and You Are Failing to Identify & Respond

We see this more frequently than we care to mention. Parents, caregivers and educators fail to observe baby closely and identify progress in the form of attempts to mimic signs and movement. Because babies have limited fine motor skills their first signs may not be of textbook quality. It is up to you the parent to closely observe micro-movements and gestures that happen in response to visuals and voice associations. For example your baby may try to open and close their hand when you say the word milk. Count these small but consistent attempts as signs resting assured that baby will eventually refine their movements.

Baby is Being Taught Signs That Are Not Relevant to Their Context

This is another common mistake and one that can be easily corrected. In the excitement of teaching babies how to sign many parents go directly to the deck of flashcards and try to teach baby as many signs as possible regardless of relevance. If your baby has never visited the ocean perhaps sand and starfish should not be part of their first signs. Pick signs that make sense to baby and meet basic needs and wants that allow for daily engagement.

Baby is Not Receiving Contextual Reinforcement & Praise

Just signing back to baby or leading with a sign won’t cut it. Babies need you to reinforce and praise consistently. Each time they try to complete a sign make it a point to praise them verbally and through facial expressions. Make each achievement a mini party that fills your baby with joy and wonder.

Baby is Way Too Young

Regardless of the stories that you hear from neighbors and friends chances are your baby won’t start signing until he or she is about six months old. Yes there are exceptions and we truly delight in celebrating and sharing when we identify a baby who is an early signer but we don’t want you to build false expectations and become discouraged. Your baby will sign in due time and when he does you will be thrilled.

Baby is Subject to Unfair Comparisons

Every once in a while we receive stories and testimonies as well as baby sign language videos of signing superstars. There are babies who can sign over 200 signs before they turn two and some precocious students that will sign milk as early as four months old. For your sake and the sake of your little one do not make comparisons. Your job is to help your baby achieve their next milestone at their pace based on their individual needs. What matters is not when baby begins signing but how baby uses their signs to make their life and yours easier once they understand the purpose of communication.

Baby Has Discovered Other Means of Communication

We see this scenario way too frequently. If a baby is able to obtain what they want by crying pointing and pulling it is essential that the parent redirects the engagement and provides the child a visual on how signing can help them obtain what they want or need. Often, we are too quick to give up and just move on by giving baby something to soothe them instead of taking the opportunity as a teachable moment.

Baby is not Receiving Reinforcement from Caregivers & Family Members

It really does take a village to raise a child. If your little one spends eight to ten hours in daycare or with relatives and the only time he gets to sign is when baby is with you their speed of learning will be severely halted. Lovingly enlist everyone involved with the care of your baby by showing them the short and long term benefits of baby sign language. In the long run everyone will benefit and thank you for it.

If you are struggling with your baby’s progress we want to remind you that you are most likely in the right path and you have not even noticed. Don’t be discouraged and take each day as a new opportunity to discover the world together with your baby. At the end of the day your goal is to improve the quality of life of your little one and that is always achieved if your primary goal is to love them.




4 Responses to “Eight Reasons Why Your Baby is Not Signing Yet & Why You Should Not Be Discouraged”

  1. Shawndra Higgins

    My baby girl, Emmalina, is 4 months old. There is a mixed excitement about sign language within the household. I think I can get the 5 older siblings on board, but my husband is great with helping in childcare, but gets very frustrated at the idea of “adding to his plate”. He’s resistant to even trying. Any advice is much appreciated, but my question is this…

    How much more delayed will her learning be if I’m the only one consistently teaching her?

    ADMIN – Hi Shawndra,

    There is no significant difference between households where everybody signs v. households where the most engaged caregiver signs.

  2. Jess

    Hi! My 8 month old started signing milk around 6.5 months. In the past few weeks, she has learned “more” and now she is signing “more” for everything (including milk and all done). I’ve tried showing her the correct sign but she just gets frustrated and continues to sign “more”. Any tips?

    ADMIN – Hi Jess,

    We used flash cards to aid in enforcing appropriate sign use.

  3. Sarah

    Help! I’m a care giver and I think you nailed it with the consistency. This baby points and screams and seems to get what he wants. He is 16 months old. Since starting with me in July, I’ve never seen him use “all done” but mom “swears he does at home” and I’ve seen him use “more.” It’s extremely frustrating for me and him when he doesn’t get what he wants so I don’t know how to get him to use it, if not words. How can I get him to use at lease those two signs? I can’t even get him to nod his head or shake no! I usually make him wait in his chair pretending to not know what he wants even though I know he wants more. Then he cries. I let him out after he 5 min. When I take him out I say “I don’t know what you want if you don’t sign to me “more” -show him or “all done” show him.

    ADMIN – Hi Sarah,

    Try reinforcing the concepts in the context of games and songs where the action is repeating again and again. For example you can get a jar and fill it with goods and sign more each time you add.

  4. Ami pobiak

    Hello! I’ve been trying to teach my daughter sign language since she was about 3 months or so. Around that time frame, and she is now 13 months old, and has just recently started using “all done” universally. When anyone tries to correct her, she gets very upset and throws a tantrum. She also only uses one hand of “all done” for everything else. She has successfully used “please” only a couple of times, but it’s always a very difficult and long process of many tears and a Lorna of frustration on my end and hers. What do I do to help her understand? ]

    Thank you.

    ADMIN – Hi Ami,

    What worked for us was to learn songs that included vocabulary

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