Research and Reality
Statisticians have shown that those with visible difference or impairment are at times the first to be a target for bullying. Bullying can be either actively aggressive actions and words or passive ‘violence’ such as being ignored or excluded.
*Please note that this article offers possible advice to those who might be bullied, it does not as a consequence claim that the bully should not change their behaviour but seeks to equip the bullied with possible techniques*
If your child has hearing loss or a hearing impairment, chances are if their peers have not noticed yet, they will take notice at some point. There is not an easy quick fix to avert or stop bullying instantly. As a parent there are several things you can do that help prevent bullying and also build your child’s resilience and equip them with healthy perspectives & communication methods.
As a mom or dad you are in the role of a provider but also that of a main advocate for your child. This role will shift and diminish as your child gets closer to adulthood but the importance of engaging in this role should not be underestimated while your child is young. Whether in crèche, pre-school, or elementary school it is important that those who interact with your child have an understanding of the challenges your child faces.
Nurture and build mature relationships with the adults who will interact and educate your child. This is a great way to ensure that the pathways of communication are clear, if an issue arises it can brought to your attention and be addressed through collaborative efforts.
Make time available to go into the environments where your child spends time to educate and explain your child’s hearing loss in an age appropriate way with their peers. Take time to explain how your child’s Baha or Cochlear implant works. When children have an understanding, they will be more likely to accept your child as they are.
If at some point, you become aware of bullying behaviour, address it respectfully as soon as possible with the adults in the environment. You will get the best results through open, honest communication, so keep your feelings in check to achieve your goal of creating a safe and nurturing environment for your child.
Advocacy is Important
Your child will benefit from observing and learning from the advocacy skills you display. To stand up for themselves they must possess a strong belief in their own abilities and the importance of human dignity. It can also be helpful for them to draw inspiration from role models who have overcome physical-ability challenges.
Promote and encourage your child to build strong friendships. Friends advocate for each other and contribute to your child’s valuable support network. Strong friendships intrinsically reduce the chances of bullying taking place. Those who bully prefer ‘easy’ or isolated targets, children who have healthy friendships among their peers are viewed as stronger.
Strong Character Foundations
From the day your child is diagnosed with hearing loss you become a critical supporter by letting them know they have many possibilities within their reach. Do not limit your child by expecting less from them because of their diagnosis.
Your acceptance of their disability is a crucial step toward them reaching their own acceptance. Acceptance involves your child being aware of their strengths as well as weaknesses and having a firm knowledge that there is nothing shameful about the fact that they use assistive technology to hear.
There are some truly excellent resources available including books for young children and in some cases they are written by children that speak honestly about the difficulties of hearing loss and being different. Seek stories that your child can relate to. SuperHEARoes that are life affirming, celebrate the beauty of diversity, and demonstrate positivity in the face of challenges can be good role models. One such character is Sapheara, created by Marvel Comics.
Building self-esteem, confidence, and resilience is an everyday activity. By showcasing a positive example of how to creatively and calmly cope with and address challenges you provide the first mirror for your child of how they should perceive and react to their hearing loss.
Talk about Bullying
Talk to your child and let them know that you care about their feelings and want to hear what experiences they are having at school. Give your child feedback which is honest. Empathize with your child and let them know that their feelings are normal.
Be the adult and control your own emotions. Letting loose with a virulent expression of emotion may deter your child from speaking up in the future. Keep calm regarding the incident because it is important that your child feels safe to share with you.
Taught to Dream
Looking back on our own childhood we can see role models who made a difference. Whether our parents, siblings, teachers or friends; these individuals didn’t try to fight our battles for us instead they helped us find our own strength in times when we felt weak. They were there for the tough times, were willing to listen, and build us up.
As you travel on your parenting journey, don’t be daunted by the possibilities of bullies, or overly-frightened for your child to experience the world. Instead provide support and teach them the skills they need to succeed.
Display confidence in them and their abilities. Teach them to dream and dream with them. Believe that they can achieve in spite of and perhaps even because of the effort involved in embracing their difference with confidence.
For any information or advice, please call our offices on 011 667 6243