When parents learn that their child has a hearing loss, often some of the first questions they ask themselves have to do with their little one’s ability to socialize and be a part of the world — “Will he have friends?” “Will she be able to play sports?” “Will the other children make fun of her?”
Parents realize, from day one, that successful social integration is key to their child’s emotional health and well-being. Just as so many things in a parent’s life change upon the realization that their child has a hearing loss, caregivers may feel that they are at a loss as to how they can best support their child’s social-emotional development. The good news is, you’re not powerless, and you’re not alone! There are many simple things you can do to build the foundation for social skills in your child’s infant and toddler years.
Building turn-taking skills through games and routines like Peek-A-Boo, songs, and nursery rhymes helps young children learn to wait for their turn in interactions, a helpful skill both conversations and cooperative play as they grow.
Zero to Three, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, provides a treasure trove of Tips and Tools for promoting social-emotional development in babies and toddlers.
Give children vocabulary to discuss a variety of emotions. Go beyond “mad” and “sad” and “happy” — talk about frustrated, embarrassed, curious, nervous, hopeful, etc. When you see the child acting in a certain way, provide him with a label, “Oh, that is a really hard puzzle. You look frustrated. Are you feeling frustrated?” Don’t tell the child how he feels or is supposed to feel, but give him options of language that may better describe his feelings.
Point out emotions in the faces of characters illustrated in storybooks.
Be a good model, and think out loud! Talk about your thought process, how things make you feel, emotions you observe in others. Talk through social situations, “It’s Aunt Jen’s birthday, so I’m going to send her a card to make her happy on her special day.” Demystify the process of social interaction by talking children through what is going on in your head.
Understand that typical infants and toddlers, even those without hearing loss, are an unpredictable bunch! Young children don’t always share nicely, behave in public, or ask questions with tact. Understand typical stages of development to make sure you’re demanding a “just right challenge,” not an impossible task, from your little one.
Arrange opportunities for your child to interact with peers in a variety of settings.
Use experience books and social stories to pre-teach and re-teach common social interactions.
Give your child freedom to explore his environment and solve his own problems within safe limits to build self-confidence and independence.
Use consistent daily routines with repetitive songs, language, and actions, to give your child a predictable environment to promote well-regulated behavior. Learn about infant and toddler temperament.
Promote early self-advocacy skills, such as encouraging the child to be more independent with replacing a knocked-off coil or alerting an adult to a dead battery, and model a positive attitude toward hearing loss by providing simple, age-appropriate explanations about your child’s equipment to curious friends and adults.