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Advice for parents of deaf children

Photo: Some children may tell their parents if they are being bullied while others may find it hard to talk about

Parents report that they felt a range of emotions from sadness and helplessness to extreme anger when they found out that their child was being bullied. It’s natural to feel like this but remember that there are things you can do.

While some children may go straight to their parents when they are being bullied, others may be reluctant to say anything or find it difficult to talk about it.

What to do if you're worried your child is being bullied

If you are worried that your child is being bullied, Family Lives has suggested a number of questions you can ask to encourage them to open up.

  • What did you do at school today?
  • Who did you play with?
  • What did you play?
  • Did you enjoy it?
  • Would you have liked to play with someone else or play different games?
  • What did you do at lunchtime?
  • Is there anyone you don’t like at school? Why?
  • Are you looking forward to going to school tomorrow?

How to help your child explain to you what is happening

If your child has difficulties explaining what is happening, Contact suggests that, depending on the age of your child, you could:

  • Draw pictures of your child’s day, or ask them to draw what has happened during their day. For example, you could draw pictures of them at break, at lunchtime, in the classroom, moving about the school, draw what games they played.
  • Use toys, puppets or pets to encourage your child to talk. You could use them to tell a story of a child being bullied and show how important it is to tell someone. Your child may feel more comfortable telling a toy or puppet what is happening.
  • Use a diary system or a box where you and your child write comments and questions you can talk about later.
  • Use scales to rate how your child is feeling at different times during the day. For example, you could use numbers or traffic light symbols, where the different numbers or colours mean different feelings. If you use a traffic light system, use green for feeling good, orange for okay and red for upset.
  • Use pictures of faces showing different expressions to explain feelings. You could draw pictures of happy, sad, angry, crying faces and ask your child to choose one to match how they feel.
  • Use visual prompts like pictures in books, communication boards (visual symbols organised by topic) and cue cards (that contain a message in a picture or written format).
  • Listen to your child. Give them your time and undivided attention so that they can explain to you to the best of their ability what has happened.
  • You may find it hard but don’t get angry or upset when they talk to you about it.
  • Children who are bullied sometimes feel that they are to blame so it’s important to reassure your child that it’s not their fault.
  • Talk to your child about what they would like to happen next.
  • There are resources specifically aimed at children and young people about bullying which your child might find helpful. For example, the following websites have information on bullying:
  • If the bullying happened in school, arrange to speak to your child’s class teacher or form tutor or head of year. Even if the bullying took place outside school premises, state schools can discipline pupils for misbehaving. This can relate to any bullying incidents occurring anywhere off the school premises.
  • Talk to the school about your child’s deafness, or other relevant difficulty or disability. Encourage the school to be more deaf aware if necessary - your child’s Teacher of the Deaf can help with this.
  • Your child’s Teacher of the Deaf is an important source of information and support, make sure you speak to them about the bullying.
  • Explain to the school the effect that the bullying is having on your child (and possibly on you and siblings). See your GP if your child is unable to go to school because of the stress caused by the bullying.
  • Keep a record of any instances of bullying and your dealings with the school about the bullying. Contact a Family have produced a bullying diary for parents in A Guide to Dealing with Bullying: For parents of disabled children.
  • Ask to see the school’s bullying policy. All schools should have one and you can find out more about the legal implications here
  • Try to work with the school to find a solution. It may take more than one meeting. Be persistent. Some parents report that it takes several incidents before their child is taken seriously. If speaking to a member of staff doesn’t work, contact the head teacher. We have also produced guidance for schools on bullying which you can share with your school.
  • If you’re not satisfied with the school’s response, or if the bullying continues, you may want to write a formal letter of complaint and then escalate as needed. Check the school’s complaints procedure before you write, most schools have it on their website. If not, just ask them for a copy. Keep a copy of the letter of complaint. Contact a Family have produced a sample letter you can send to your school if your child is being bullied in A Guide to Dealing with Bullying: For parents of disabled children.

All schools should have their own definition of bullying, and their own anti-bullying policy which should include procedures for reporting and responding to bullying. Your child’s school should make sure that their policy is accessible to and reflects the needs of deaf pupils.

Equality and anti-discrimination legislation requires schools to:

  • Take reasonable steps to make sure deaf pupils aren’t treated less favourably than other pupils in terms of the school’s arrangements for preventing and dealing with bullying.
  • Take measures to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
  • Promote equality of opportunity between pupils and encourage good relations between deaf and other pupils.

Not sure what support and services you need? Our helpline is here to help you if you’re a parent of a deaf child or a deaf young person. Our free, independent advice will help you feel more confident and informed about deaf-related issues.

A common theme amongst parents who report that their deaf child has been bullied is the lack of deaf awareness in the child’s school.

Here are some suggestions to consider either before your child starts at a school or when they are already there.

  • Find out how much the school already understands about deafness by speaking to school staff or your child’s Teacher of the Deaf.
  • Speak to your child’s Teacher of the Deaf about the possibility of providing deaf awareness training for staff if this hasn’t already happened.
  • Speak to your child’s Teacher of the Deaf about the possibility of a deaf role model visiting the school. The Teacher of the Deaf should be able to arrange this.
  • We have a number of other resources that may useful to direct your school to including:
  • For younger children, we have published a number of books which raise awareness of deafness in an accessible way and we’ve also produced some comics that help explain the processes your child might come across, such as visiting the audiologist.

Some behaviour exhibited by deaf children might be misunderstood by others, for example, speaking too loudly, using aggression to get attention (because they haven’t yet got the skills to do it any other way), tugging at someone’s sleeve, tapping someone or banging the table to get attention. This shows the importance of deaf awareness in schools, so that hearing children understand why a deaf child might behave in a certain way. If you think this might be happening, speak to your child about their behaviour and how it might be interpreted by others.

Make sure that your child understands about right and wrong behaviour and bear in mind that just because a child is deaf it doesn’t mean that they won’t be a bully. Even if behaviour is unintentional, they need to learn what is acceptable to prevent problems in the future.

Talk to your child’s school about deaf awareness. The same applies if your child’s ‘bullying’ behaviour arises from a difficulty or disability other than deafness: make sure that the school is aware of your child’s condition and how it affects their behaviour.

Sometimes children who are being bullied respond by bullying others. This can in turn lead to further bullying. If your child is accused of bullying, it’s important to take it seriously, even if you find it hard to believe that they could do such a thing. Find out more about what happened and work with the school (or club or other place where the bullying is said to have taken place) to find a solution.

Some parents have reported that it is not only their deaf child who is bullied because of their disability - sometimes siblings are bullied too.

The suggestions for recognising and responding to bullying of deaf children will also apply to their siblings, for example, improving deaf awareness at the school, reassuring the bullied sibling that it’s not their (or their sibling’s) fault, building their confidence and self-esteem.

You could also look into the possibility of getting support for siblings, which is not specifically about bullying but does talk generally about having a disabled sibling. Our website has more information about this in our Parenting and Family Life section.

Unlike the rest of the UK, in Scotland bullying can be considered as an additional support need. A national programme called Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) aims to improve outcomes for all children and young people. For more information, see Additional support for learning: A guide for parents and carers.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, bullying in itself is not considered to be a special educational need. However, if it is part of a wider picture of social and emotional difficulties (for example, an inability to make friends), it should be covered by special educational provision and you could discuss any concerns you have with the school/pre-school or consider asking for a statutory assessment.

Contact social care services

Social care services would not normally be involved in any cases involving bullying unless they believed that the bullying poses a significant risk to your child. However, parents have a legal right to request a statutory assessment if they would like additional support from social care services to address any needs arising from bullying, as well as any wider needs.

We have produced a resource Know Your Rights, (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland versions) which can be downloaded from our website or ordered from the NDCS Freephone Helpline.

Contact NDCS

NDCS can provide information and support for parents in relation to bullying and any related issues. For more information call the NDCS Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880 or email [email protected].

Other charities

Contact A Family also have a helpline for families concerned that their child might be being bullied. Visit the Contact A Family website for more information or call 0808 808 3555.

You can also access advice online through the Anti-Bullying Alliance Interactive Parent Portal.