S-P-E-L-L It Out

Last week we heard from one of our Mamas regulars about an important article posted on the website, hearingfamilies.com. Ellen and I took a look and agreed: it includes valuable lessons and reminders for families of all kinds, not just those with hearing challenges and obvious communication difficulties. Enjoy!   


S-P-E-L-L it out for me: A Letter to Mom and Dad from Your Child with Hearing Loss

by Dr. Efrat Schorr

Dear Mom and Dad,

Hi, its me your child with hearing loss. There is something really important about me that you need to know. I realize how hard you try to help me learn language and succeed, so I know that you would want to know about this so you can help me.

I try hard to understand what is going on around the house, especially when it seems that interesting or unusual things are happening. But sometimes I miss stuff. I can’t always tell what people are saying, and if people are trying to whisper or hint it is very hard for me to catch the info.

When someone is sick, explain this to me. Tell me straight out – I’d rather know about it and not be shocked, even if it is sad. Like when Grandpa went to the hospital and you weren’t sure if he was going to die. Please explain that to me. Tell me that we don’t really know when anyone will die. Help me understand that Grandpa was really sick and that he had an infection and the doctors at the hospital were trying to help him get better. If you don’t tell me, I might not understand why everyone at home is sad and stressed. But even if you don’t tell me, I can sense that something is wrong and I will worry and feel scared nonetheless. Although you may mean well, you cannot shield me from sickness or sadness. That is not even your job – your job is to help me learn how to cope with life, not to hide life from me. I want to be a part of this family, and that means being a part of the sad and upsetting times too.

When a guest comes over who looks different or has a special need, tell me about it. I, of all people, can appreciate that we are all different and we need different things. I might never have seen this kind of thing before and if you prepare me ahead of time, then I won’t be frightened and I’ll handle the situation so much better. I might never have seen a child in a wheelchair or a person who is blind, but you can teach me about it and then I will know.

When you are going through a hard time, include me. I understand that some things are just for Moms and Dads. But sometimes hard things that happen to you will be so important that they have an effect on me. If you lose your job, as a kid I can’t do much to help. But at least I will know that you are under pressure and I can understand if you are upset or don’t have so much patience for my fighting with my brother and sister. You won’t scare me more by telling me what is going on. I can feel that something is different and not right. I am worried about you already, so share with me and make me feel included in our family.

When you are going on a trip or leaving somewhere, let me know in advance. I may cry because I really don’t want to be away from you. But it helps me to know when you are leaving – because then I can prepare myself. You can make me a calendar, with boxes to check off so that I can get a sense of when you will be back. You can make a plan of when you will call or email me each day or every few days. And you can remind me of who will take care of me while you are gone and why you trust this person or people.

When we go to a place where you need to behave in a certain way, let me know. Do we need to stand in line and wait our turn? Do we need to sit quietly? Do we need to wash our hands first? I might really be able to do what is required to behave appropriately in this situation if you explain it to me ahead of time. Let me think about it, ask questions to clarify and make sure that I understand what is expected of me. If you ask me “Do you think that you can do what is required? Do you want to come?” then it is my decision to cooperate with you and your expectations and I might really succeed and impress you. That would make me feel so good, since I really want to be successful and your approval means so much to me.

Truth be told, my brothers and sisters without hearing loss could use this information spelled out to them sometimes too. They have an easier time eavesdropping than I do – but we are only children after all, we do not understand everything. We need you to help us make sense of the often confusing world around us.

Your Child

Thanks, Dr. Schorr, for reminding us how easy it is for kids to misinterpret, or miss altogether, our confusing adult messages. When we speak loud and clear, letting them know what to expect, how we feel, and what they need to know, they can respond with a secure sense of the rules, limits, and our endless love.

What our kids hear from us, both literally and figuratively, influences their behavior far more than we think, so we need to be crystal clear whenever possible.

We are all “hearing impaired” when it comes to figuring out the subtle cues of those we’re closest to. Sometimes you just need to spell it out.    

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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