There is a very tender, delicate balancing act that parents of children with hearing loss find themselves in. It is really a fundamental issue that lies beneath the surface of so many of the other issues that come up parenting children with hearing loss – so lets address it head on:
On the one hand we want our children to be successful, to be able to do what the other kids are doing, and to achieve that, we need to have high expectations of our children. We have to encourage them to try things and tell them that they can do it. On the other hand, our children have a disability. It is real, and it has real effects on our children’s day-to-day lives, their ability to succeed in school, and on everything. How are we supposed to stand up straight every day with these two forces battling for our attention and focus? How are we supposed to communicate a clear and confident message to our children when we can feel so confused and unsure?
1. High expectations CAN co-exist with realistic situations. That means that we might want our child with hearing loss to have all of the benefits of learning a musical instrument, we can have high expectations of this child, just like any other. But this will only work in realistic situations. Maybe the noisy, rowdy school band is not the place for musical experience for this child. Maybe a one-on-one private with an experienced teacher is the way to start. We may want our young child to be able to sit quietly and listen during prayers, but realistically, she can only handle 10 minutes, not anywhere near the whole service. So we can work on those 10 minutes, help the child feel good about what she can do, and hopefully develop good feelings about going to prayer services.
2. It needs to be ok if my child isn’t able to handle everything right now. Sometimes this is just how it is. Fighting this truth is where the problems arise. All of the other children in the class can do it, but the reality is that our child can’t yet. The sooner we wrap our heads around this, the sooner we can figure out ways to compensate for this and work to have it not turn into a big deal. Also, if we are realistic about what our child can do, then we can find situations where my child work hard, maybe with some help, and can be successful. This experience builds the child’s sense that she can work hard, people will help her out if she needs, and she will be successful. She needs as many repetitions of this type of experience as she can have.
3. Believe that it will come. This is the key. The key to having high expectations that are a goal to reach and not a source of disappointment is to truly make ourselves believe that it will come. Our child CAN do it, our child will mature and develop and will be able to do many things that we want to see them able to do. Here we need to practice shaping the ideas in our minds. We simply need to practice over and over, like a mantra: THIS CHILD IS GOING TO GROW UP AND BE FINE until we believe it. We must do this because even if we try our hardest, our children can sense our anxiety about them. If we are really worried about how our children will ever cope with the demands of school, friends, life – then our children will sense this and will wonder for themselves, what if I can’t hack it? We need to believe in them, in their inner talents and strengths, and in the power of positive thinking.
4. This doesn’t mean pretending that our children don’t have unique needs. They do have real needs. It is not as easy for them to hear as it is for everyone else. This means that they spend a lot more of their energy trying to listen and there is less energy left for the task at hand. There are real, constructive things that we can do to help children with hearing loss learn and progress by making it as easy as possible to hear. This means that many of our kids have to work very hard to learn language and do what they need to do when they get to school. We need to be realistic about this so that we can work constructively to make sure that they get as much support as they need. We might need to make sure that teachers and principals know that we don’t want breaks for our kids, we want them to get the help they need to be able to do what everyone else is doing.
5. We are all different and we are not all able to do everything and we might not want to do everything. Back to the music example: I think most people can enjoy music, but not everyone is going to enjoy playing an instrument or being in the band. One size does not fit all. Even if the whole family plays, even if we have always hoped and dreamed of our child playing, she just might not want to. When we get advise from people who have not parented a child with hearing loss that is not realistic for our child, its OK to tell them “Thanks for the good ideas, things are a little different when a child has a hearing loss.” Every child has strengths and talents. Every child cannot do everything. That is not a problem, it is how we are made.
6. Our job as parents is not to make everything easy and sweet – its to teach our children how to cope with challenges. This means that when our child is struggling and even suffering, it does not mean that we are doing a bad job. It is painful to watch and be a part of, no doubt. But we can never smooth away all of life’s bumps in the road. We don’t serve our child’s best interests if we try. We risk sending the message that we must smooth out your path because they are not able to cope with the bumps. We don’t want our children to get this message. It is truly in their best interest to show them that we will support them when they encounter problems and we will try to teach them how to cope with problems, but problems are a part of life, and they can handle them.
7. Communicate honestly with your child. As always, the last word is open, honest communication. She is not dumb, she sees everyone else in reading groups while she gets pulled out by the reading specialist. Or driven home from the birthday party while the other kids are sleeping over. Don’t try to pretend, it won’t work. You can say “the other kids are doing reading groups. But you need some more help with reading and you are working very hard. If you keep working very hard, reading will get easier for you, you’ll see.” It is hard to be doing something different than the other kids, but it is even harder to pretend that you aren’t.
Tags: adolescence, children, cochlear implant, coping with stress, deaf, hearing loss, listening to your child, outlook on life, realistic expectations, social and emotional development, talking to your child