There is nothing more frustrating then seeing your baby cry and scream and not knowing what the problem is - if only he or she could tell you. It turns out that he or she can, babies can learn to sign much sooner than they can learn to talk.
This takes a little dedication and patience but when your baby finally makes the sign the reward is HUGE! I had a lot of time on my hands prior to having our baby so I started from day one but most start teaching baby at about six months.
Since my baby could say "Mama" and "Dada," I skipped to what I felt was critical information here are the signs:
Place your hand in front of your mouth and tap your lips as if feeding yourself, be sure to articulate the word "hungry."
"Are you hungry?" "Mommy is hungry." etc. Our baby would naturally make this sign whenever she wanted to be fed. Teaching her the word hungry was a matter of reinforcing what she was doing. Below is the sign:
Use your hand to rub your belly in a circular motion (I have seen this sign done in other ways but a sign is whatever you teach them). Again, be sure to reinforce the word "more". Would you like some more carrots? Mommy is going to have some more.
Raise your hands in the air like you are giving up while rotating your wrists. Our baby did this naturally when she was in her swing and wanted out. We began reinforcing the phrase saying: "Are you all done?" and taking her out. She soon began making this sign in her highchair, exersaucer and even on her playmat. This was the second sign she did with purpose after hungry.
Push your hand away from your body as if saying "talk to the hand." Our baby made this sign on her own and we reinforced it as the word stop. She would most often do this while nursing if I tried to pull away. I would say, "Do you want me to stop it?" and I would mimic the sign back. She now does it whenever she is dissatisfied with us, particularly when we take away a toy, cloth or the remote.
Every time you change a wet diaper look at baby and say, "You have a wet diaper" while tapping your nose. I have been doing this for nine months and she has yet to do it as I am pretty sure she is still unaware when she is wet. One day before she can say it, I am certain she will sign this and it will be one step towards being potty trained.
Every time baby has a poopy diaper, look baby in the eye and say "You have poop in your diaper" or if you can catch him or her in the act say, "Are you making a poop?" Either way when you say the word make the sign, do a thumb up with one hand and wrap the other around and then pull them apart. My baby can't do this one yet but again I believe it will come and bring her closer to potty training.
For example, below is the sign for sleep. My baby rubs her eyes when she is tired, this is her sign to us that she is ready for a nap or bed. To reinforce, I would rub my eyes and at the same time say, "Are you tired?" or "Mommy is tired." The sign for sleep is supposed to be a head resting on your hands in a prayer position.
To give the sign for a bath place your fists in front of your body and move them up and down as if washing your torso meanwhile articulate: "Are you ready for a bath?" "Do you need a bath?" It also helps if you bring baby in while filling the tub, sign and say, "Mommy is making you a bath."
Although it may seem more natural to teach baby to nod yes. It may actually be easier for baby to express this with his or her hands. To sign yes with your hand use a fist to nod up and down while saying "Yes" in context with whatever you are asking baby.
Similar to yes, it may seem easier to teach baby to shake his or her head as the sign for no. For baby it may be easier to sign with his or her hands. To sign no with your hand do the finger wag, point up with your index finger and wag it side to side while saying "No" in context with whatever you are asking baby.
I Love You
This sign is three simple parts and I add a fourth, a hug at the end to reinforce. My baby is a cuddly little one and she hugs tightly. To sign I love you, point at yourself for I; cross your arms across your chest for love; and point at baby for you. I say "I love you" while doing this one and I say it immediately after again while giving baby a hug. This may be reinforcing the hug as the sign but to me she already understands I love you to be a hug but I would like her to understand that we can articulate it without hugging.