Parenting the Child who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing

All children need three types of inner resources in order to have emotional

  • Good feelings about themselves and others.
  • An understanding of right and wrong.
  • A variety of resources for solving problems.

Strategies for Enhancing the Parent/Child Relationship

01. Be Predictable

Children thrive in a predictable environment. Routines and schedules carried out with consistency will provide stability and security. This is also true with parenting behaviour – consistent messages and consistent, reasonable consequences result in a child who trusts his parents. Consistency can be especially important for some children who have limited communication skills. Because of the increased potential for misunderstandings, structure is essential.

02. Communicate Clearly

To communicate clearly, consider the following:

  • Make sure your words and actions are sending the same message.
  • Young children need to have things spelled out for them – to teach an abstract concept like “sharing,” use examples.
  • If there is a communication challenge because of hearing loss, acknowledge the need to develop strategies to close the gap.

Consider creating a ‘quality control’ test to make sure your message was understood as intended, including consequences. Have her repeat back what she understood.

  • Role-play to teach productive, appropriate questioning techniques that will be essential at home, at school, and everywhere.
  • Try to limit over-explaining. Use concise, simple language without going into extraneous details. For example: “When you are done cleaning your room, you can have a popsicle.” versus “When you are done cleaning your room, and we need to have your room clean because we are having company for dad’s work and we wouldn’t want to be embarrassed, right? Then, you can have a popsicle.”

03. Understand Behavious

By being good observers, parents can gather information that will help them understand what a child’s problem behaviour means. Parents may falsely assume that negative behaviour is due to a child’s hearing loss. However, it is important to identify if the issue is due to normal growth/developmental stages (in other words, age appropriate) or a child’s inability to hear or communicate.

Look for a pattern. What happens before the behaviour starts? When, where, and with whom does it occur? Is there a physical cause such as hunger or fatigue? Was the communication experience unsuccessful – resulting in frustration, anger and lashing out? Does he feel threatened, hurried or ignored? Is he seeking attention in an unappealing way? Is he having trouble expressing himself and projecting his negative energy in a physical way? Which is needed – punishment or a shoulder to cry on?

04. Acknowledge the Positives

It’s easy to take for granted what we approve of, and hard to ignore what we don’t like. This makes it easy to neglect opportunities to praise good behaviour and focus on bad behaviour. Let your child feel and see your approval. Turn ‘no’ statements into ‘yes’ statements, i.e. “I love how careful you’re being with that antique vase.” It is generally better to reward desirable behaviours than to use consequences on undesirable behaviours. It is also best, if possible, to provide the reward immediately after the desired behaviour has occurred.

Parents often feel uncomfortable when they hear the word “reward” and think it means rewarding only with material items such as toys or money. However, the easiest and most important way for you to reward your child is to provide positive attention to your child during or after he or she has completed the appropriate behaviour. You can acknowledge the desired behaviour (“I noticed you played quietly when I was busy with Dad,”), express appreciation or
approval (“I like it when you put your dirty clothes in the basket,”), praise the behaviour (“Well done! Good job!”), or show interest in your child and her activities by describing the child’s behaviour or acknowledging the child’s feelings (“You cut up the carrots into little circles,” or “You like to put your shirt on like that”). Even something as easy as a smile or gentle touch from you will provide an instant reward to a child.

05. Set Up a Safe Environment

Children love to explore and thrive in tactile environments where things can be pulled on, climbed over, taken apart and put back together again. This isn’t being naughty – this is their nature. Make her environment safe. The more appropriate things available to explore, the fewer problems with inappropriate behaviour she will have. Consider how this applies to adolescents and even teenagers. A safe environment is one where the rules and limits are defined and understood. Can she have the car Friday night? Yes, if we know whom she’s with, where she’s going, and when she’ll be back.

06. Set Sensible Limits

Neither parents nor children want to live in a police-state atmosphere in which there are so many rules it’s impossible to avoid breaking them. Generally, very young children can remember only a few rules and a great deal of adult supervision is required to enforce them. Make the language simple and direct, like: “Use words, No hitting.”

The limits expand as the child grows older. Going outside established limits is an exercise in trust between parent and child. If your adolescent or teenager demonstrates responsible behaviour, he should be rewarded with certain privileges. If he demonstrates a lack of responsibility, the limits may need to be more tightly drawn and defined until trust is built again. Disciplining without feeling guilty is a major challenge, particularly for parents of children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. However, limit setting for children is essential to learn to adapt to the “real world.”

07. Defuse Explosive Situations

Step in while your child is still calm enough to discuss a problem. Intervene before anger gets out of control. If certain situations are recipes for disaster, talk about them ahead of time and create some plans for coping and resolving. For children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, not being understood because of a communication gap can be a common occurrence, and one that lends itself to frustration and anger. Anticipate these kinds of circumstances. Often parents
can help children avoid a meltdown by pointing out problem-solving alternatives that can be employed before the problem rises to a crisis state.

08. Teach Good Problem Solving Skills

There are good solutions to problems, and not-so-good solutions to problems. How do you get your child to know the difference? Start by clearly labeling unacceptable behaviour and explain why. Follow up with positive suggestions for what to do next time. For children under four, it’s best to simply state what you want them to do next time. For older kids who can express themselves and think abstractly, ask them what they could do next time that would be better.
Suggest additional alternatives. As kids get older and more mature, they’ll be able to employ these tactics more successfully if they’ve been practicing them since childhood.

If the problem stems from communication gaps, which is often true for children with hearing loss, use the same strategies and exploit every opportunity to expand the child’s language base around conflict resolution. Knowing how to express himself and state his position will increase your child’s sense of empowerment to successfully solve problems.

09. Don’t Threaten or Overreact

Too often, parents threaten, giving the warning of a consequence over and over again without enforcing it, making it ineffective. Giving lots of attention to problem behaviour can create another whole set of problems. Telling a child to go to a time-out place or removing her from the play area where she misbehaved delivers a consequence for bad behaviour without creating an attention-getting incentive to do it again.

10. Seek Professional Help when Needed

Most children grow out of common behavioural problems with the patient guidance of parents and other caring adults. For a small percentage, the problem behaviours persist and can become severe. Professional help is an excellent resource that can provide support and a constructive plan of action.

See the Counselling Support for Children and Families section in this toolkit for available resources.

11. Be Patient and Realistic with Your Child and Yourself

Be realistic with your expectations – are they too high or too low? Continual evaluation of your expectations is needed to ensure they are appropriate. Misbehaviour happens. It’s human nature to learn from our mistakes. A key to healthy psychological development lies in the child’s ability to do just that. Self awareness, self-care and stress management will result in better parenting. Your consistency, patience and love will provide him with the support needed to emerge into mature, autonomous adulthood.

12. Don’t Neglect the Other Relationship in Your Life

The chances of raising a healthy and happy child are increased with healthy and happy role models for parents. Your other children, spouse/partner, siblings, parents, friends and other family members can be mainstays of support for both you and your child. However, your child will only see value in these relationships if you are engaged. You can refer to other articles in this toolkit, such as Support for Siblings and Who Can Help? Finding Information and Support, for materials on how to involve and relate to others. Parenting a child who is Deaf or Hard of
Hearing can also put unique stressors on a marriage or partnerships. For more information on this topic, see For Better or For Worse: Keeping Relationships Strong While Parenting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children on the Hands and Voices website.

Adapted from:
-Allison Freeman, Seven Pitfalls in Parenting Your Child with Hearing Loss
-Kathy Eugster, Providing Structure for Your Child: How to Assert Your Parental Authority
-Thelma Harms, Wisconsin’s Babies & Hearing: An Interactive Notebook for Families With a Young Child Who Is Deaf or Hard of Hearing