How to Teach the Two Signs That’ll Change Your Life

sign cover final

So today I was reminiscing about when Boom Boom was about 9 months old, and he hit that fantastic stage where he wanted to eat human food but didn’t really know how to communicate. Hence, the huge chocolate cake mess in the cover picture.

And we all know what that leads to.

Food on the floor. Food in the hair. That second helping that goes untouched. Basically, food struggles.

That was when I decided to teach Boom Boom two basic signs: “all done” and “more.”

And you know what? It changed both our lives.

True, food still ends up on the floor. I’m expecting that to happen until my children go off to college. If it stops before that, well then, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

But these two signs allow your child to communicate wants/needs, and they also allow you to communicate with your child (as in, no more food, or asking if they want more)

The key to teaching these signs is lots of modeling, immediate rewards, and not taking no for an answer.


Modeling is fancy-speak for doing what you want your child to do. In the beginning, you also have to model the reaction/reward for the sign.

So these two signs are super easy.

“All done” looks like jazz hands. You hold your hands up, and shake them.





To make the “more” sign, you make a “lobster claw” and have the fingertips of your two hands touch.







I recommend teaching “all done” first. Motor-wise, it is easier to do, and there are more acceptable variations. For instance, my son usually just flails his arms, but I know what he’s trying to say.

Okay, so here’s what you do:

Wait until your mom (or dad)- sense kicks in and you know your child is done eating.

Make the sign yourself, and ask your child, “All done?”

Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. (lots of modeling, remember?)

If your child doesn’t try to mimic you, grab his hands and help him make the motion, always saying “all done.”

Now, let go of his hands and model it one more time.

If your child makes ANY movement, you give lots of praise and immediately take the food away.

Repeat and repeat and repeat. Every meal, every situation involving food.

If your child still doesn’t do it, once again, put his hands in yours and help him make the sign. Then immediately fulfill the “request.”

Immediate Rewards

It is SO important that you immediately respond to your child’s attempts to sign. It trains a Pavlovian response, and since you are most likely dealing with a very young child, he/she needs that immediate response to pair the cause-and-effect of the sign.

If you don’t know who Pavlov is, let me give you a quick rundown:

Pavlov conducted an experiment with dogs where he would ring a bell and then give the dogs a treat. Eventually the dogs associated the sound of the bell with getting a treat.

That’s the essence of what we’re going for here.

Make the sign, something desired happens.

Don’t Take No for an Answer

Kids are sneaky. And kids are lazy.

Now, before I am tarred and feathered, let me explain.

If you don’t make a child request something, they will use the smallest amount of effort required to get what they want. 

It’s just human nature. I, for one, will only do the minimum amount of cleaning that I have to to make my house acceptable. (Ya….that super-detailed spring cleaning list I made two months ago? Buried somewhere on my kitchen fridge).

So it is important to be consistent. Don’t have your child tell you “all done” for breakfast and then just clear his plate automatically for lunch (no matter how close you are to naptime). Remember, you are not just teaching this sign; you are teaching your child that communication is necessary and important. 

However, you do have leeway in terms of what you will accept as a sign. I accept any flailing of the hands/arms for “all done”; I accept “more” when Boom Boom moves his hands closer together.

You Can Do It!

Teaching nonverbal children signs is step one in speech therapy world. But I also know that some parents are hesitant to teach sign, fearful that it will impede verbal language development.

This theory has yet to be proven by any study done on the subject.

You could teach your child several signs- you could expand into “help,” “food,” “drink,” etc., and it still wouldn’t impede their verbal language development. If anything, it will help it because (as I wrote in bold earlier), you are teaching your child a)how to learn to communicate, and b)that communication is necessary and important.

So please, give sign a try with your little learners! You may find, like me, that those two basic signs allow for a WHOLE lot of communication!

Getting Kids to Talk

Getting Kids to talk

Today’s post is about what needs to happen before a child will start talking, and ways to encourage verbal speech.

I’m sure this is no great shock to anyone, but language starts developing long before the first words are spoken.

When I worked in the preschool, they had a great handout called “Things that Need to Happen Before A Child Will Talk.” It was in THE BINDER. I got it at orientation, and it was big, thick, and alphabetized within an inch of its life. Well, I have tried every configuration of words in Google search, and I can’t find anything even close to it. Boo!

So, my little tribe, what did I do? I nearly squashed myself trying to get the box with my old schoolbooks down from the shelf in the garage. But I dug out my language development book, and ta-da! Here is my own version:

1) Mutual gaze- the fancy term for looking at each other. This leads to gaze coupling, which is alternating between making and breaking eye contact. This is important because it teaches children that eye contact is required to begin social interaction.

2) Imitation- imitating both facial and motor behaviors is important for language development because it shows they are absorbing social interactions and trying to “figure it all out.” This eventually moves into imitating vocalizations.

3) Intentionality- when a child starts doing things purposefully to get attention. Before speech, this is usually seen through gestures and specialized vocalizations (every mom knows what the “I’m hurt!” cry sounds like compared to the “I’m angry!” cry). This is the first time that the child considers his or her audience.

4) Theory of Mind- it is the concept that other people have independent thoughts and feelings. I’ll try to explain this at the infant/toddler level, because it’s a bit messy. Imagine you are an 18-month old toddler. If you don’t have at least the beginnings of theory of mind, you automatically assume that other people are hungry because you are hungry. If you do have ToM, you (subconsciously) know you need to let others know you are hungry.

5) Babbling- this goes back to imitation, but adds vocalizations. It is very rare that a child will speak before they babble (although I’m not claiming it never happens).

While this is not a comprehensive list, it does list the main pre-verbal milestones. I hope it helps to see where your child is, and what to work on.

So, we’ve talked about what needs to happen before speech, but now I want to give you a great reference for ways to get children to talk! Sometimes it seems like your child is doing all these things, they should be talking, but they just aren’t. And from both a speech therapist and a parent perspective, it is so frustrating!

Well, don’t despair. The Hanen Centre puts out an incredible freebie that gives 10 great ideas to encourage speech in young children. Here is the link:

Hanen Centre 10 tips

You just give your first name and email, and it is delivered straight to your inbox. These tips are seriously so awesome, and I don’t want to copy anything.

And along the lines of not copying anything, the textbook I referred to was Language Development: An Introduction, by Robert E. Owens, Jr., 8th edition. I am already having horrible flashbacks to my thesis so I’m taking a stand and most definitely not putting this citation in APA form.

If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them!