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Signing with your child

​​​​​How can using signs help my child learn to talk?

  • Your child may remember w​hat they see better than what they hear. If your child is slow in learning to talk, they may use gestures and s​igns to learn to communicate.
  • Your child will remember signs or gestures longer than if they only hear a word. When you say the word “dog”, it’s only there for a second for your child to hear. If you say the word “dog” while signing it, your child has much longer to see and remember the word.
  • Your child may become frustrated if they’re trying to communicate but they can’t talk well enough to express themselves yet. They may show their frustration, e.g. by crying, shutting down, or having a tantrum. Using signs can help your child feel less frustrated by giving them a way to communicate before they start using words.

​​​​​Which gestures or signs do I start with?

  • Choose signs that your child will be interested in. This may help them want to learn more. Your child may be interested in signs for words like dog, ball, baby, light, keys, fan, and music. Also choose signs that you can use during daily routines (e.g., help, eat, drink, mad, sad, sleepy, more, all done, stop).
  • Your child’s signs may not be exactly like yours. Respond to your child when you think they’ve tried to sign something. For example, if you think your child is signing “ball”, sign “ball” back to them, saying “ball” slowly and clearly. You could also talk about the ball, and roll and bounce the ball.​
  • Your child will be more likely to use the sign again if you respond. Keep using the correct sign, even if your child changes it. They will eventually try to say the word if you always say it when you sign it.
  • You can go to your local library to get signing books to help you get started.​

​​​​​When do I use signs?

  • Use signs whenever you get a chance and in as many situations as possible. For example, the sign “water” can be used when your child is having a bath, swimming at the pool, or drinking water. You can also use it when it’s raining and when the sprinkler is watering the lawn. This will help your child to understand the word better.

Remember to always say the word when you make a sign. When possible, do signs near your face so your child can see how you say the word.​​​

Where to get help

For more information about how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help, contact:​​

  • Your doctor, public health nurse, or other health provider
  • Your local health centre

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