Making Christmas deaf-friendly
Times of celebration and get-togethers with friends and family can be challenging for deaf children and young people. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and other festivities can be great fun, but they might also involve spending time with people who aren’t very deaf aware in noisy and busy situations.
We’ve put together some top tips to help you make deaf children and young people feel included at Christmas time. You may want to share these with family, friends, teachers, youth club workers, or anyone else who’ll be spending time with your child during the festive season.
Sara is mum to Rhys who is moderately to severely deaf and wears hearing aids.
“We find taking time to explain to Rhys and the boys what’s planned over this period is essential. Sometimes Rhys might miss what’s being said to him, especially if he’s engrossed in something.Try to explain what you’re doing throughout the day, down to where nan and gramps are sitting at the table, what food you’re cooking, and the games you’re going to play – a deaf child needs repetition of words to increase their vocabulary and grow in their development.
“We don’t always get it right and for some reason we all put even more pressure on ourselves at Christmas – just try to relax and don’t worry if you have to repeat yourself a few times over Christmas dinner, that’s what it’s like to have children!”
“Last Christmas, at dinner I sat him next to my niece Sophie (10) who’s quiet and attentive; she came to family sign language lessons with us. She’ll tap him, say, ‘We’re talking about this or that,’ and she makes sure to keep him in the loop.”
Sara is mum to Rhys.
- Use tablecloths to absorb sound from clattering cutlery.
- Think about positioning – can the child see everyone clearly to lip-read or sign? A round table is ideal so that everyone can see each other.
- Allow the child to choose where they sit. They may prefer to sit with their back to the light (so that they can see other people’s faces), with their back to the wall (to help with acoustics), or beside a friend or family member who they find easy to understand.
- Speak one at a time.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full or cover your mouth when speaking.
- Put your cutlery down from time to time to sign.
- Be aware that a deaf child may choose to eat all their food and then get involved in conversation rather than trying to follow while eating.
- Let the child know what the topic of conversation is so that they can follow more easily.
- When eating out, ask for a table in a quiet, well-lit area of the restaurant.
- At a restaurant, waiting staff may engage in small talk which the child can miss, so be ready to interpret for them so that they know what’s being said.
- Encourage your child to ask the waiting staff or host for what they want. Try not to order for them.
- Choose somewhere to eat that has visual children’s menus so the child can point to what they want.
"Normally our extended family visit on Christmas Day and it’s lovely to see how they’ve adapted to how Rhys responds and acts. We’ve shared our knowledge with the family on how to be deaf aware, for example, giving Rhys time to answer questions, being specific in what they ask, not speaking with food in their mouth, not jumping from one topic to another, and to always include him in conversation to avoid him feeling left out. Rhys wants to talk about the toys he got like any child! Just listen, and give him time to speak and answer."
Sara is mum to Rhys.
Have a chat with any friends and family you’ll be seeing to remind them of what they need to do to include your deaf child. You might want to send them our deaf awareness tips in advance.
Encourage them to brush up on their British Sign Language (BSL) – even if they learn how to fingerspell their name or a few festive signs, this will mean a lot to a deaf child. You could print off our fingerspelling postcard to help everyone remember the letter signs.
"We let Charlie have some ‘Charlie time’ where he can sit in a room on his own and play his console or read. Trying to listen and understand people all day can be tiring so it’s better for Charlie to have some time to himself to relax for a little bit."
Tina is mum to Charlie.
- Keep music on low or turn it off completely during conversation and mealtimes.
- Is the background music making it too hard to communicate? Ask the child what level is okay for them.
- Allow the child to leave the room and go to a quieter space if they need some time away from the noise.
"We explain to Oliver that the room will be dimly light as he doesn’t like the dark (he has a night light on at night) but we will be there as well."
Maria is Oliver's nanny.
- Have a bright lamp on as well as using fairy lights and candles so that faces can be seen for lip-reading.
- Not sure if it’s too dark to lip-read? Ask the child what lighting they would prefer.
- If your family attends church services which are candlelit, such as Christingle, ask a church warden if there’s an area which will have electric lighting where your family could sit.
"Oliver likes to be reassured about what’s happening, when it’s happening and who will be going/watching."
Maria is Oliver's nanny.
- Make sure the subtitles are set up on the TV before watching a film together.
- If you want to take a family trip to see a pantomime or festive film, call the venue in advance to check what equipment they have to help your child access the performance. Many theatres and cinemas have a loop system, but you may need to ask them to turn it on or borrow a neck loop to help your child access the system.
- On Christmas day, or at a gathering or party, give the child a role, like handing out sweets or giving out presents.
- When calling friends and relatives on Christmas day, consider video-calling using Zoom or Facetime so that the deaf child can join in too.
- In the lead up to Christmas when there’ll be changes to regular routines, such as concerts, meals out or visits to friends, let your child know what’s happening in advance. A visual calendar with pictures of each event might help young children to remember what’s happening when.
- Games are a great way to include deaf children at Christmas – just make sure they don’t rely too heavily on sound or listening. Quizzes presented in a written or visual format or board games work well. Or why not try a game of Fingernary to help everyone practice their fingerspelling?
"A visit to Santa is such a special memorable occasion it’s important to get it right. There are some ‘Signing Santas’ out there but they’re not always accessible to everyone."
Linda-Jane is mum to Victoria, Alice and Henry.
Beards make lip-reading very difficult for deaf children as they can’t see the lip patterns clearly, so a trip to see Father Christmas might not impress a deaf child as much as you’d hoped. Have a quiet word with the manager of the venue and see if adjustments can be made to help your child, such as Father Christmas wearing a smaller or tidier beard. Some parents ask one of Santa’s helpers, or a nearby elf, to repeat what Santa is saying! Read Linda-Jane's blog to read her tips for deaf-friendly visits to Santa.