by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A mother explained:
We have a 5-year-old daughter who is hard of hearing, and wears hearing aids in both ears. She received speech therapy and hearing support at her pre-school as well. Her speech is delayed from not being able to hear for so long.
We’re having a hard time disciplining her because she’s not understanding what we’re saying and we’re not understanding what she is telling us. We talk it out, but she gets frustrated and just starts crying.
The problem I think we’re having is that she is not understanding when we tell her something is right or wrong. Her right ear has a moderate to severe loss and her left ear has a moderate loss.
Do you have any advice on what to do when it comes to explaining the rules and disciplining children with hearing loss?
You have raised a most important point. I have had experience on both sides of this issue—first as the hard of hearing child, and then later, as the parent of a hard of hearing child.
Before you discipline a hard of hearing child, you have to be sure that they willfully disobeyed. If they didn’t know something was wrong, because they never heard previous warnings, its not their fault, its yours for not communicating in a way that they could hear (understand).
Therefore, you need to use all the normal hearing loss coping strategies—get close, face the child, cut out background noise, make sure there is light on your face and not in your child’s eyes, etc., etc. before you begin talking. If you don’t do this and then punish a child, the child is traumatized because they don’t have a clue why they are being punished.
I still remember when I had just turned 4, my mother was in the hospital having my brother, and my dad was home looking after my sister and me. The first night my dad developed severe ulcers and the ambulance took him to the hospital. Co-workers of my dad’s, but strangers to me, came to look after us for a few days.
Was I ever terrorized! I was punished for things I didn’t even know were “wrong” because I couldn’t hear/understand what these strangers were saying. They assumed that I was being disobedient, when in fact, I didn’t have a clue what they wanted me to do. Such situations can leave deep emotional scars.
Therefore, before you jump down a child’s neck, you first have to find out their understanding of what they did. For example, if you say, “Don’t jump on the sofa” and the child does it, you need to ask, “What did I say about jumping on the sofa?” For all you know they never heard the first word “don’t” and thus heard you tell them it was ok to jump on the sofa and thought, “Wow, this is great!” They may not have even heard the word sofa at all, and so didn’t have a clue what you were talking about.
Children can become very anxious when they don’t know the rules, and thus punishments seem to come out of the blue at random.
Also, always reinforce what you are saying with visuals. For example, in the above example, when you say “Don’t jump on the sofa,” at the same time you should be shaking your head so even if they don’t hear the “don’t” they see it. By the same token, nod your head when you tell them to do something.
I can remember lots of times not understanding what I was supposed to be doing because I only got part of the message/warning/command. All you need to miss is one word and it completely changes the meaning, and with our poor
ears, we miss a lot more than just one word!
To be sure your child understands you, here’s a simple rule. Have your child repeat back to you any warnings, orders or instructions you give him. Say, “tell me what I just told you to do/not do” so I know you understood me. only what he repeats back is what he heard/understood/can remember. You need to take that literally, and in its narrowest sense. Don’t read into it more than he just said.
Let me give you an example of this from my adult life so you can see how even making the smallest assumptions about what we hear can have major consequences. A number of years ago, I was a volunteer firefighter on the Canadian prairies. There were large grain farms as far as the eye could see. As you can imagine, we had a lot of field fires in the spring and fall when the farmers were out working their fields.
Because I couldn’t hear much, the chief typically had me doing “support” roles rather than active firefighting, although I was trained in everything and had to step in at a moment’s notice if they were short-handed. On field fires I was often designated to drive the water tanker.
On one such fire call, the chief told me to take the tanker. I asked, “Where’s the fire” He said, “3 miles east and 4 miles south.” I repeated it back to be sure I got it right—3 miles east and 4 miles south. I repeated it again to be sure, and the chief, deputy chief and captain all heard me repeat it back.
I took off immediately in the tanker (a lumbering cow to be sure) and I hadn’t gone a mile before the other trucks all passed me and were soon long out of sight. When I got to the intersection 3 miles east and 4 miles south of town there were no fire trucks, no signs of a fire—nothing.
I got on the radio but couldn’t reach them—just static. They were down in a coulee and their signal couldn’t get out. What do I do now. I’m alone in the water truck and can’t understand anything on the radio. Where do I go? I know I’m at the right location.
There was a little rise in the road behind me, so I turned around and drove to the crest and radioed again, “Where are you?” Back came the reply, “Where are you? We’re out of water!”
I said, I’m 3 miles east and 4 miles south and you’re not here.
That’s when I discovered I didn’t have the whole message. You see, we always used as our reference point for out of town fires, the intersection of the road to the town and the north-south highway, so that is what I used.
For some strange reason, this one time, they used an intersection 4 miles south of town on the main highway as their reference point (and I never heard that). So when I repeated back what I had heard, the chiefs and captain mentally read into it that I was starting 4 miles south of town just like they were thinking—yet they all heard exactly what I had repeated back and I had not repeated anything about a different reference point. The result was I had the water they needed, but was exactly 4 miles north of where it was needed!
This kind of thing happens with our hard of hearing children too. Therefore, ask them to repeat back your orders and instructions, and only what they repeat back is what they understood—nothing else. It is up to you to be sure that they have all the essentials included. If they don’t, try again (and again) until they get it right.
Remember, earlier I said to also use visuals (nod or shake your head). Well, in our fire department, it was standard procedure that the first or second person arriving at the hall would find the location of the fire on the map and make a prominent circle around it so everyone coming in later could see where it was. All truck drivers were supposed to check the map before the left the hall so they knew where they were going.
Most of the time the chief and I got there first—he worked across the street and I lived right beside the fire hall, so I typically marked the map as he scribbled the directions down. But this time I was working out of town so didn’t get there in time to do that—and no one else had bothered to mark the map. Thus I had no means of visually checking where the fire was. To hard of hearing people, that’s how important those little visuals are when added to any verbal instructions.
When children are old enough to read, its not a bad idea to have a “book of rules” so they can be sure they understand them properly, or leave a printed note listing what they are supposed to do/not do. Make it easy for your hard of hearing child to know what is expected of them.
One more point. Few people realize that it is difficult for a hard of hearing person to remember more than one or two directions at a time. This is because we work so hard trying to understand the words, that the message never really sinks in. It’s hard to recall a “fuzzy” message, and that’s all we have to work with. Therefore, if you have more than a couple of instructions, write them down so we get them all correctly.
Many’s the time I have listened to instructions and at that time, I was sure I had them, but by the time I walked out the door, too late I realized I could only remember the first one or two.