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Not Hearing or Not Listening: 7 Ways to Tell if Your Child Understands You

Does my deaf child understand me

Parenting can be challenging. Parenting a child with hearing loss has a few added unique challenges.

More times than I would like to admit, my husband and I, frustrated, have found ourselves looking at each other and asking, “Does he not hear us, or he is just not listening?!”

We have one “hearing” child and two children with hearing loss – a four-year-old and 6-month-old. Ayden, our toddler, is full of life. He is curious, silly, and has a strong and independent personality. He is known by his friends as “the funny guy.” As his parents, we call him, “Our Curious George.” Parenting a funny and curious kid has us rolling on the ground laughing, as well as sometimes pulling our hair out in frustration.

Parenting children with hearing loss

When it comes to parenting our children with hearing loss, our first goal is always to make sure or children are, in fact, physically hearing what we are saying. This means we have to take extra a few extra steps to ensure that his hearing aids are function and working like they normally do.

Read more: 5 Common Hearing Aid Challenges for Kids and How to Solve Them

For example, one night we found ourselves struggling with Ayden’s behavior. Dinner had rolled around and Ayden, was in a testy mood. He was tired after a long day. As a family, we sat around the dinner table and began eating. It seemed from the very moment we started, Ayden was not obeying what we were saying.  We repeated phrases over and over again. “Please, sit down,” “Keep your hands to yourself,” “Eat three more bites.”

The more we spoke, the more frustrated we all became. My husband and I were baffled by his complete lack of obedience. Ayden was clearly irritable, refusing to do anything but lay on the ground whining. With the situation clearly out of hand, I finally picked him up and moved him into the other room.

I sat him on the couch, bent down, and asked him what was going on? The batteries of his hearing aids had been changed that morning. I couldn’t understand why he was so deliberately not obeying a thing we were saying. I finally decided to check his hearing aids one more time. Sure in enough, both of them were not working. The tubing was completely filled with ear wax. There was not a single sound coming into those ears. He had not heard a single word we had been saying. My heart broke.  

“There was not a single sound coming into those ears. He had not heard a single word we had been saying.”

I wish I could say that this was a one-time scenario, but it happens more often than we would like.  On the other hand, there are many situations where he clearly hears us and still chooses to not listen to what we are saying.

Our goal is to make sure we can eliminate all possibilities of hearing aid issues might cause him to not hear what we are saying.  

Here are 7 practical strategies we use to determine if our child is not hearing us or just not listening:

1. Check Batteries

The first and most often issue that arises is when Ayden’s hearing aid batteries die. It usually happens in one ear at a time. This makes it less noticeable, to him and us, that he isn’t hearing well. For some reason, Ayden doesn’t tell us when a battery dies. We are working on this one.

In addition, the Roger system that we use at home and at school can cause his batteries to die faster. When the Roger is being used a lot, we find that checking the batteries is a vital step to ensure that he is hearing us. We typically change the batteries on his hearing aids every 1-2 weeks.

We try to choose a day of the week that we change the batteries. This is usually a Sunday night before the start of a week. However, it doesn’t always work that nicely.

While both my children have the Phonak Sky hearing aids, my daughter’s has the new Phonak Sky V, which has the fancy lights that indicate if the batteries are working. I am always looking for the two lights flashing. Thee fast flashes means the battery has died. This feature, is a favorite of mine.

Read more: 5 reasons to choose a pediatric hearing aid for your child

2. Check Hearing Aids

As my son gets older and more independent, he loves to do many tasks himself. Putting his hearing aids in himself is a task he loves. However, he is still new to the process. A number of times I have found that the back hasn’t been closed all the way. This means that the hearing aid is not on. Therefore, before he goes to school, I will place my hand around his hearing aid and check for the feedback. This is a fast check I do to make sure that the battery is in and working.

As Ayden grows older, this won’t be a problem. He will be able to tell us or change the problem himself. But for now, we make sure to check every single day. If not multiple times a day. This might seem overwhelming at first, but it is simple and just second nature to us now.

3. Check The Tubing and Ear Mold

This week, I began to notice my 6 month old was pulling out her left hearing aid all the time. My husband even questioned if she had an ear infection because she kept tugging on the ear. I checked the battery to see if that was the problem, but the light on her hearing aid indicated it was. I then checked the feedback – there was no feedback. The hearing aid was not working. My next check was to look at the ear mold to see if ear wax was clogging the tube.

That is when I noticed the tubing had been ripped from the ear mold.

4. Come Close, Eye Level, and Be Expressive

If we know that my son’s hearing aids are working great, (the battery is new, no ear wax, ear molds fit great) and he still is not listening, we add one more step. We make sure to get close.

If we are at the park and I say from the other side, “Ayden, get down, that is dangerous” and I see he is not responding to what I am saying, I will get as close as possible, try to get eye level, and use as much expression and basic signs as possible. At that point, I will repeat the question or statement.

Distance and noise are huge factors that can limit the effectiveness of hearing aids and when I get close I can get a good idea if he can’t hear me clearly, or he is not obeying.

5. Checking for understanding

There are many circumstances that Ayden “hears” what I am saying. However, I have learned that hearing and hearing with clarity are two very different aspects. Ayden might be looking at me, even responding to me, but even a little miss of a word or sound can cause him completely miss the meaning of my directions. To make extra sure he understands what I am saying, I will ask him to repeat me.    

6. Utilize a Roger System

Parenting active children puts us in many situations where background noise and distance become a factor in the clarity of Ayden’s hearing. Utilizing the Phonak Roger system is an invaluable tool when parenting. I can know, even at a distance, that Ayden is hearing my directions.

Read more: The one hearing aid accessory that makes parenting so much easier

7. Going The Extra Mile

Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

While we don’t always get it right, we have found that taking these seven steps are extremely helpful ways to make sure that our children are actually hearing what we say. 

Do you find yourself asking, “Does my deaf child understand me?” What are ways that you help to make sure your child is not hearing or just not listening? Please let us know in the comments!

Author Details
Melissa Hyder is a mom of three and a lover of life. She loves adventure – from wearing bright red lip stick for the first time, to traveling to an uncharted area. Two of her children were born with moderate-to-severe hearing loss, likely from genetics. They wear Phonak Sky hearing aids, or as they call them, their “Super Ears.”