Sign Language Signs Every Parent and Child Should Know

*Below is an article written by Alexis Henry, who stays home with her daughter who is deaf due to complications from meningitis as a baby*

When we learned of our daughter’s hearing loss, it was a difficult adjustment. My spouse and I had always planned on learning baby sign and teaching it to our child anyway. Once her diagnosis came back as severe to profound hearing loss, we knew that learning American Sign Language was more of an absolute rather than a pastime.

Signing has become a massive asset to our family in multiple ways. Even our parents have learned to sign. Our knowledge has reached much farther than communicating to our child. In the past, my spouse and I had signed to one another through the window when he was doing yard work. I have signed to him at crowded family gatherings. My mother and I communicate across the grocery store without our voices. I have used it at work a time or two as well. But of course, my favorite is having sign language conversations with my daughter. I cannot lie to you, knowing how to sign is pretty cool. At least it is to me.

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With that said, here are some simple signs that would be useful for my daughter’s friends and my friends to know. Learning the language as a whole is not a requirement to be a part of our lives by any means. It is, however, incredibly heartwarming to find others that already know signs or are willing to add it as a language supplement.

Of course when you speak of communicating with friends, especially with children, learning the sign for “play” is a big one. For children to communicate with other children in general, play is always paramount to forging new relationships, no matter how brief. Sure you can try to play chase. However, without communicating the desire to play in the first place, it may be confusing for my daughter to catch on at first.

Play used in conjunction with the sign for “come onOpens in a new tab.,” which is a pretty universal hand motion that most of us sign naturally. But pairing “come on” with “play” would lead the child to follow along. When kids are playing together, it is not uncommon for children to have to share the same toy. We often stress to children that they need to take turns and share. Taking turns is a general standard courtesy that they will need to rely on for the rest of their lives. The sign “take turnsOpens in a new tab.” is a directional sign, meaning you will sign it in the direction of the other person if it is their turn, or to yourself if it is your turn.


Occasionally, little ones need to take a potty break. To a Deaf or Hard of Hearing child, a friend getting up to scurry off to the bathroom may leave them with a moment of confusion, not knowing what is happening to their friend. Signing “potty” is an efficient one hand movement to notify others that you need to use the restroom, thus clearing up any confusion as to what you are doing. If your kiddo is needing to pause playing until they return, simply signing “wait” is a great way to let another kiddo know to hold off until they return.

For grown-up interactions with little ones, expressing wants and needs is paramount. Parents knowing and teaching their children the signs for “wantOpens in a new tab.,” such as wanting milk or foodOpens in a new tab., are helpful for keeping meltdowns to a minimum. Taking the guesswork out of the needs and desires the child has is beneficial to any parent’s sanity. Regardless if your child is Deaf/Hard of Hearing, non-verbal, or typically developing, knowing these signs is an asset to communication in any family. Signing “all done” is another excellent sign to use, especially during mealtimes. It can help you avoid the power struggle that can come with having to entice your young offspring into eating just one more bite. Also, signing “all done” swiftly and with a stern look would signify that you don’t want to discuss the matter of finishing their veggies any further.

In speaking with my daughter’s teacher of the Deaf, she expressed I should refrain from signing “no.” That is because, to hearing children, we often explain the reasoning behind a “no” answer. That isn’t often the case with children that have hearing loss. Let’s face it, often the outcome of giving children a straight “no” answer goes over about as well as bathing a cat. That is the same regardless of hearing or not. Using “not yetOpens in a new tab.” or “wait” gives your child a sense that you heard them, and a little patience would be appreciated. Signing “no” would likely have them feeling that the discussion is entirely off the table. This action could ignite some big feelings in your little one.


The last sign I will discuss, and probably the most helpful of all signs, in my opinion, is “help.” Help has, well, helped us a lot. Help at one time was the most used sign in our home. We were helping with everything. Putting on shoes, going to the potty, and picking up toys. Help is another directional sign. By motioning to someone, you are indicating that they need help. Signing to yourself, you are showing you need help.

All in all, for many, being in an inclusive environment is such a great feeling. For a deaf child to feel included in the mainstream world, it can be monumental to them. We’ve all seen the videos of amusement park princesses or characters signing to little kids, or a technology conglomerate commercial where they turn an entire neighborhood into a sign language-friendly environment for one individual. Catching some feel-good feelings from those types of videos is likely one iota of what the subject of those videos feels. I have seen it in my child when she is caught off guard by another person signing to her that normally would not. I can only imagine the amount of pride and confidence that goes along with those seemingly small actions.

Adding any or all of these signs to your household may just help you and your child communicate without as much guesswork.


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