December 5, 2012

My Baby Signs "More" When She Means "I Want"

A former class participant sent me a question that ties into my most recent blog post. She said that her baby started signing in October when she turned one. Her baby signs "more" fairly regularly, but the mom has come to realize that her baby often means "I want" when she signs "more." For example, the baby signs "more," and then points at something she sees that she wants. The mom wondered if she should start showing the sign for "want" in addition to the sign for "more" or if that would just complicate things.

What this mom describes is very common. For a baby, the distinction between the concepts of more and want is a very fine line. More = "I want more of something I've just recently had" and "I want" = I want something I'm thinking about right now or something that I can see and point to." When a baby learns to sign more to get more of something, (and it works!), it's completely logical that he or she would make the  same sign to convey they want something/anything/everything, whether they've recently had it or not!

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In this situation, what I encourage parents and caregivers to do is add the sign(s) for the objects or activities the baby is trying to communicate that he or she wants. For example, when your baby sees you getting a container of ice cream out of the freezer and she emphatically starts signing "more,"you would probably notice yourself saying, "Oh this ice cream looks good, doesn't it? Would you like some ice cream, too?" As I discussed in my last post, as you converse in this way (which you likely do without any "training"), you are naturally providing a verbal label for that interaction. For signing, all you need to do is add the sign for ice cream to that conversation, so you are also introducing a sign label for that motivating object (or activity).

Another thing to be aware of is that it's not uncommon for a baby to sign "more" when it isn't immediately obvious what they want "more" of (or, more accurately, what they want). In this case, you'll need to do some sleuthing to figure out what your baby is trying to convey to you. For example, when my son was a baby, the first thing he would do when he woke up in the morning was sign, "more." I'd laugh to myself, "More what?? You haven't had anything yet!?" However, when I thought about our morning routine, I typically nursed him soon after picking him up from his crib. With this in mind, it was logical that what he wanted when he was signing "more" was "milk." So, I'd say to him, "It looks like you are ready for your milk this morning," while I signed "milk" and got settled in to nurse him. Over time, his emphatic signs for "more" in the morning shifted to the emphatic signing of "milk,"which, incidentally, he signed constantly, but alas, that is another story!

So when should you sign "want?" Well, if you've taken any of my classes or followed my blog for long, you know I don't think there are many shoulds in signing...But next week I will share when I think "want" can be a helpful addition to your baby's signing vocabulary. If you have other questions in the meantime, post them here, or send me a direct message and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Happy Signing! Dawn


  1. My second daughter always signed "MILK" for "MOM." Probably because I nursed her. It didn't always mean she was hungry, but it always meant she wanted me :).