There will be times when your baby uses a sign that is totally wrong. Very often a baby will continue to use the wrong sign because they have gotten a reaction they like and so wish for it to continue. For example, a baby might use the words Mom and Dad interchangeably at first because you thought it was funny. The same can happen with signs, so it’s important not to reinforce incorrect usage. When your baby does a sign wrong, this is a perfect time to teach him the correct way because he’s expressing an interest and a desire. Ideally you aren’t allowing it to lead to a favourable end result which will spur his motivation to learn it correctly. Take the time, in the moment, to work the sign correctly. [Right: A made-up sign for FALL DOWN, as in “Oh NO, FALL DOWN!”]
Caution: Sometimes babies see things adults don’t, so when they sign something insistently be sure to look carefully for the object. CATS can appear as photos on walls or as patterns on wallpaper, so don’t think that baby is always messing up!
Your baby might use MILK for EAT or even for I WANT or MORE. Your baby might even use MILK for wanting a TOY and so forth. This is easy to correct, when your baby asks for MILK but really want a TOY, just offer them MILK and see their reaction. When your baby refuses the milk, teach them the sign for the TOY or whatever it is they really want.
The sign for MORE can often become used for I WANT which then becomes a catchall for many different things. For our house this was just fine, we simply didn’t mind him using MORE for I WANT. However, we began to request that our baby combine MORE with the object he wanted. Thus, when he signed MORE, we asked that he connect it with another word such as MORE PLAY or MORE MILK, or even MORE TOY. This was an excellent way to move our son toward creating sentences by combining words.
Combining signs into sentences is a milestone in and of itself so should be one of your goals. Besides, MORE should not be a catch-all for all things baby wants. If you do you’ll end up right back at the start – having to guess what it is your baby wants!
Above: Courtney explains how signs and spoken words are sometimes combined and other times babies will use one or the other based on how difficult it is for them to do. Signs are designed to facilitate language and your baby will use the easiest method of communication. As their vocal cords develop your baby will drop signs and favour of spoken words as they are quicker and easier than doing signs. Watch some examples of signs being used in different ways.