If you can’t hear, you are different from most other people. So how can parents help their deaf child to deal positively with this difference? Danish family therapist Jesper Juul explains his approach.
Being different is seen as a good thing these days. Should you encourage children to be different?
I’m not a big believer in this concept. Far too often it’s an idea that parents and educators invent in order to mask their own pain or make themselves appear useful rather than being of real value to children. All your child needs is authentic, empathic parents. In practice, that means parents who don’t behave according to a set method or strategy but instead see, listen to and accept the child as they are, and lend their creativity to children when they are unable to see a way forward.
Let’s imagine a family with three children. Two of them can hear normally, one of them is severely impaired. How should and could this family respond to the one child being different?
Siblings often tend to behave the same way towards a disabled child as the parents do. However, sometimes parents are overly protective or occupied with the disabled child and as a result, the other children feel the need to rebel because they have different boundaries and limitations. Relationships between children are unique in each family. Never tell a child how they should think and feel about their disabled sibling but be interested and curious about how they actually think and feel.
What are the most common mistakes people can make when children are physically different, and specifically deaf or hard of hearing?
Many parents spend far too much energy in attempts to strengthen their child’s self-confidence and ignore the fact that the more different a child is from other children, the more self-esteem they need. Self-esteem reflects a person’s overall sense of worth as opposed to self-confidence, which relates more to assurance in a specific area such as musical ability.
If I understand your theories correctly, you also say that children learn much more by imitation than from verbal explanations. What implications does that have for children who have hearing impairments?
As I’m sure all parents of a child with a hearing problem already know, these children have been experts in reading and copying behaviour since birth. As in all communication between people, the verbal message is only 15 per cent, and most deaf children I have met can easily compensate for the loss of this.
Let’s imagine that the parents can hear and the child is deaf, or vice versa. How should parents deal with having different sensory perceptions from their child?
Some degree of difference in perceptions is a factor in all parent-child relationships. The way to deal with it is to pay attention, and be interested and appreciative as you learn about the ways in which your child feels and interprets the world around them. When necessary, do all you can to make your own emotions, thoughts and reactions clear and understandable to the child.