Creative Child

The Baby Signs That Changed My Life

by Brittany Ferrell


Baby Signs: Milk vs. Water

Although my daughter has now surpassed the one year milestone and eats a variety of solid food, she still receives a great deal of her calories per day from milk. As the summer months arrived, I noticed that my daughter began nursing more frequently. I realized that she was probably more thirsty than hungry, but unsure of how to ask for water versus milk.

  • The sign for "water" is done by making a “W” near your chin with your first three fingers. I demonstrated this by pointing to the water in her cup for reinforcement.
  • The sign for "milk" is done by squeezing your fist like you are milking a cow. I demonstrated this sign while pointing to my breast.

Besides teaching my daughter how differentiate between the sensations of hunger and thirst, I have also eliminated the embarrassment of her pulling down my shirt and subsequently flashing strangers in public. Instead of exposing myself to unsuspecting bystanders, if my daughter wants to nurse she signs, “milk” and “please” and we retire to a suitable location.

Baby Sign: Hot and Cold

The signs of “hot” and “cold” may not appear to be life changing on the surface, but I have found great success with these signs.

  • We sign “hot” as if we are fanning ourselves from heat. (This is not the real sign, but developed out of actually fanning ourselves from the desert heat in Las Vegas, so it works for us!)
  • We make the sign for "cold" by holding our arms close to our bodies and shivering like we are freezing.

These two signs have allowed us to explore our environment, while simultaneously learning about safety. I taught my daughter the sign for “hot” by allowing her to feel the steam for a bowl of hot pasta at a safe distance and the sign for “cold” my rubbing ice cubes in the palm of her hand. I explained that the stove is too hot touch by making the sign for “hot” and then the sign for “hurt”.

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I learned that my daughter has very specific preferences for temperature. I had been following the rule listed in every baby book for dressing her, “Dress your child in one layer more than you would wear.” I tend to experience temperature in various stages of near hypothermia, whereas my daughter is apparently a tiny, human space heater.

Now, she tells me if her pajamas or jeans are “too hot”. She also prefers her water with copious amounts of ice to soothe her “hurt” mouth during teething. My favorite is when she takes her cup of crushed ice and makes the “hot” sign and then bursts into laughter before making the “cold” sign. A joke! Toddler stand-up comedy with sign language!

Baby Sign: Help

I love this age of toddlerhood, I really do. My daughter is still one part baby and relies on me for most things: food, clothing, comfort, and of course, positive reinforcement. Even when she is investigating some new treasure, she looks to me for validation. She is also one part independent spirit, with her own likes and dislikes, thoughts and feelings, and perception of the world. Sometimes she needs my help, sometimes she wants my help, and sometimes she just wants to figure things out all by herself.

It is natural to want to jump in and help when I see my daughter is frustrated, but I also want her to develop appropriate problem solving skills.

  • The sign for “help” is made by placing one hand palm side up and the other hand in a “thumbs up” position. Then, you use the palm up hand to lift the other hand, as if you are giving a “helping hand”.
  • You can extend this motion towards your child to ask if he or she needs your help or reverse it to ask your child to help you.

Sometimes she accepts my help when I offer, but she always leaps at the opportunity to help me. In this way, she is learning how to problem solve independently when able, but recognizes that she may also ask for assistance to avoid frustration. She is also learning the importance of helping others and developing a sense of self-worth.

My daughter and I like to add several new signs to our repertoire each week and can actually engage in conversation! I say each word aloud simultaneously, in order to develop and reinforce her oral vocabulary. The frustration for my toddler is gone, as if I have removed her from the foreign immersion program that she never signed up for. My sanity has remained intact because I know that I can effectively meet my daughter’s needs while also fostering her independence. “Thank you” baby sign language!

For more on baby sign language visit

Related Article: Tame Your Toddler with Chores

Brittany Ferrell has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Education. She has worked as an elementary school teacher for twelve years and was awarded "Teacher of the Year" 2011. In February 2014, Brittany and her wonderful husband, Jerome welcomed their miracle, Madeline Olivia to the world and she has chronicled her struggle to become a parent in her published memoir, "From Dream to Dream Come True: My Journey to Motherhood". Brittany writes about her fairy tale dream come true of motherhood on her blog, A Mama Tale.

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