Communicating with Kids Communication Practices

Hearing Small Voices

Michele: Because I’m a lipreader, I’ve taught my granddaughter Ayla how to talk to me from the time she was born. Year after year, I’ve witnessed the benefits and it’s been awesome to see her progress on her own each time I demonstrate ways for her to help me understand more.

Here’s an example of my instructing Ayla at age four: I had picked her up for our weekly library storytime for preschoolers. While riding in the car, she spoke to me from the backseat. I instinctively checked the rearview mirror to lipread her. As she held up a flashlight her Pops (my husband) had given her, she said, “This flashlight turns ________.” 

I saw her lips move, but I couldn’t get the last word… my brain ran through the list of possibilities and nothing was right. I finally got it once she figured out how to make the flashlight turn GREEN. “This flashlight turns green.” AHA!

I took the time to let her know that I couldn’t guess the word until I saw the flashlight turn green (I had never seen the flashlight before that day, and no idea it turned green). I let her know she could have helped me by describing the word, and a better way would have been to say: “This flashlight turns the color green.”

She thought about it…

Later in the day, and in the car again, I asked her what she had for breakfast. She told me she had eaten, “One egg, three slices of bacon, and a ________.” 

Again, I couldn’t get the last word. It looked similar to bagel, but that wasn’t it. Looking at her in the rearview mirror I could see the wheels turning in her brain, and just like that, she said “I had a mango, it’s a piece of fruit,” and I got it. Sometimes getting difficult words on the lips is as simple as using more describing words. If you’re consistent, children will begin to integrate your direction into how they communicate with you without your asking.

Once Ayla started school, we didn’t see each other as much and she began to forget some of the things I had taught her. That meant reminding her more, and also finding new tools and techniques for communication.

Ayla in the bog. We were collecting things from nature for a school assignment.

Before Thanksgiving last year, Ayla’s parents were having a hard time with the online school schedule conflicting with their work schedules. She wound up staying at our house for 15 days until Christmas break so that I could help her get into a good routine that she could follow on her own as a 3rd-grader. It was challenging, and I gained a new respect for parents of school age kids during the pandemic craziness.

Ayla talks a lot faster than she used to, so while she stayed with me I used speech-to-text apps on my phone to help me get everything she said. We developed other methods and habits that built on the fundamentals I had taught her at a younger age. If there is anything you can depend on with hearing loss, it is that your communication needs are constantly changing and adjustment is necessary. Both for you and for those who communicate with you.

Chelle: My hearing has progressed over the years with a few big drops. It started out with a moderate loss in the high frequencies and went to profound deaf. Kids voices are the hardest for me to understand. I have a daughter and two sons. Before the boys hit puberty, I could not tell the kids  apart on the phone. I’d call them from work to check in from school. I used to try to guess who I was talking to but seemed to get it wrong more often than not. 

“Hi Chandel…” 

“It’s Cutler mom, not Chandel.” 

He took the most offense at my wrong guesses so I started asking, “Who’s this,” before I started talking. Once the boys hit puberty, I could finally tell everyone apart and I was so grateful!

I have two grandsons, ages 5 and 11. We’ve been working on them facing me when talking but it’s difficult which tells me how much I depend on sounds I can hear. Their voices are on the edge of nothingness with my current hearing loss so it takes focus on my part and repeats from them. I’m going to have to teach them gestures and fingerspelling in the near future to help. 

During COVID and the shutdown, we went to video calls. We used Google Meet for the speech to text option and it worked really well. It was almost better than in person conversations. The oldest grandson could wander around and talk without it focusing on his face and the captions appeared. The captions weren’t always right and when they weren’t he’d laugh and carry with the speech to text rather than me. It was fun, we had some good laughs.

The other night I went to my kids house to play cards. I was already tired when I got there and my brain doesn’t unscramble speech sounds as well. My oldest grandson took me aside to confide something and I could not understand, even with him facing me. My brain didn’t reach further to find other solutions either, so whatever it was is lost because he didn’t seem to want the others to know. I feel bad for that, next time I’ll make sure to use my speech to text app. 

Julia: Teach your children and grandchildren early on communication strategies. I said in a previous blog that I taught my children how to communicate with their grandmother by accident. It wasn’t because grandma sat us down and helped us know her needs, I learned these strategies from attending hearing loss events, classes, and support groups. The tidbits I learned from those with hearing loss helped our family communication as my grandmother’s hearing declined. I would set the rules with the kids about communication with grandma before we went to visit her. It is something that worked well for our family.

Before visiting with your hearing loss friend/family member have a talk with them on what rules or help they may like with the kiddos. Know when they might want help with understanding. And if you can mirror those communication strategies in your everyday life, it really does help with day to day communications inside your home and has a lifelong impact for your youngsters.

If you are out and about with your kids, and they talk to a stranger and you see the stranger ignore your child, do not assume this person is having an attitude. Maybe they didn’t hear that little high pitched voice. Politely tap and ask if your child can repeat. Or politely let your child know the person didn’t hear them. Let’s teach our kid’s patience and kindness. We need some of that in the world today.

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