Sign language: 4 simple signs to teach your toddler NOW (and save your sanity)

toddler crying upset

Life can be pretty frustrating when you’re a toddler who still needs to learn his words. On the one hand, we have nothing but sympathy for when our little ones – overcome by sheer frustration – resort to crying, winging or tugging on our clothes to get their point across, but on the other, this sort of ‘age appropriate behaviour’ can totally do our heads in.

I get it. When my boys were toddlers I can’t recall the number of times I said, “What do you want?!” all the while knowing they couldn’t tell me using actual words. 

As such, we developed a sort of toddler sign language, and it really cut down on a lot of the frustration – for the both of us.

Here are four simple signs you can teach your tot to help him out in the communication department.

1. ‘Need help’

This is a big one! If you teach your toddler the ‘help’ sign – which looks like a bird feeding from your hand (put your thumb and fingers together on one hand to form the ‘bird’ and then cup the other hand so the bird can peck at it, like it’s eating seed) – and you will save yourself a lot of noise, and your toddler a world of frustration. For example:

Can’t open the sliding door? Do the help sign. Sippy cup lid clogged?  Help sign. Truck trailer detached? Help sign and so on and so on.

 See? this could be HUGE! How many times does your tot need help a day?

Mum with toddler son


Read more about toddler behaviour:


2. ‘Point to the owie’

Not an official sign language sign, but I taught my boys early on to point to where it hurt for all those times when they were too distraught to tell me. My five-year-old will still point to his knee when crying and unable to speak to show me he’s grazed it. This one is especially handy when you know your child is hurt but you didn’t see what happened and so don’t know where their pain is.

Simply teach him how to “point the owie” when he’s not upset, so that he can when he is. You can role play this by pretending you are hurt and then point to where the ‘owie’ is.   

3. The ‘finished’ sign

Often our toddlers get frustrated when they’re pulled away from something they are enjoying. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t like that. It’s tough when you have no autonomy over what you can do and how long you can do it for.

Teaching your toddler the ‘finished’ sign – which is just the ‘thumbs up’ sign but you rotate it from side to side – will tell him that something is over, without you having to pluck him from it or take it off him without warning. He may still cry when told something is over, but I found my boys understood this better when I used the sign as well and also that their tears didn’t last as long.

It’s also very cute when he starts doing the sign back to you to tell you he’s finished his banana or finished building his tower.

Child playing with car

4. ‘More please’

Cut down on your toddler whingeing and whining for more of this or that by teaching him how to ask for it with a simple sign. While you should also teach him the words “more please” the sign for this will help him out when he’s forgotten how to say it when in the moment, or he is getting overcome by frustration.

To do the ‘more’ sign, form two ‘birds’ with each hand (thumb and fingers together to form a point) and then make them kiss a few times by bumping their ‘beeks’ together. 

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