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Supporting your child to build their deaf identity

Photo: It's important for your child to build a deaf identity from a young age

Even at a young age, it’s really important that children feel confident and comfortable with who they are, as part of their family, with their friends and in their community. If they’re clear on their identity at a young age, it’s much more likely that will follow through, with the right support, later in life.

Elizabeth is mum to Leo (5), who is deaf.
“At home, we celebrate everyone’s differences, like Leo’s hearing aids, my glasses or the different eye colours or heights of family and friends. We often talk about how dull life would be if everyone was the same and how lovely and interesting it is that everyone is unique. I am also mindful of my choice of language, ensuring that it’s positive and enthusiastic. As Leo once said to me early in his deaf journey, wearing his aids ‘is no different to mummy wearing glasses’. He’s completely right, it’s a normal and everyday thing to be celebrated!”

Why is it important that my child knows their identity?

Many people your child will meet will have no previous experience of having met anyone who’s deaf. It’s important that as parents and carers we understand what we can do to help our children feel proud of who they are. As parents we want to help build and develop our child’s resilience and be positive about their deafness.

  • A child who feels proud of who they are will feel more confident and willing to embrace new challenges and try new things. Having a strong sense of self-identity will really boost their self-esteem and lead to better emotional wellbeing.
  • Talk to them about why they’re unique and celebrate the differences between us all. Help them understand that us all being different helps make the world interesting.
  • Everyday life gets busy, so take the time to remind them why you’re proud of them, and remember to praise them, even when things don’t quite go to plan. Knowing you have confidence in them and will be there to support them will really help your child feel proud of themselves.
  • Be genuine, open and honest as much as possible. Recognise that you know sometimes things are challenging, but let them know you’ll support them to try new things and be there to back them up when needed.
  • Help your child build their resilience. Life can be tough and we want our children to develop the ability to bounce forward again. Remind them it’s ok to have bad days but help them find ways to deal with that when it happens. Maybe you can even role-play a situation to help them see how they could have explained things better or done something a bit differently.

Ann is mum to Daniel (15), who is deaf.
“We wanted Daniel to grow up feeling proud of his deaf identity. It was important to us that we explained his deafness in a positive way, not so much hearing loss as deaf gain. One of the best things we ever did (apart from learning British Sign Language (BSL)) was to help Daniel understand that he was part of a deaf community. Although it was a bit daunting, we took Daniel to deaf events and felt welcome right away. We watched Daniel come alive around other signers and it made us see his deafness very differently. The positives of this community and sense of belonging helped immensely with the inevitable ‘why did I have to be deaf?’ conversations when Daniel realised that being deaf made him ‘different’. Having deaf friends helps to balance that and we met other families with deaf children by joining a local deaf children’s society, plus they arrange loads of fun deaf-friendly activities which has helped to boost Daniel’s confidence.”

Top tips from parents and professionals

Nicky, mum to Isabelle (2). Both are profoundly deaf.
"Socialise with other families who have a deaf child, whether in person or online. It’s useful for your child to see others with hearing devices and not to feel singled out. Comment when you see deaf characters on TV, for example, Toy Story 4 features a child with a cochlear implant!"

Vicki Kirwin, Audiologist.
"From a very young age, it’s important that deaf children see others who are like them. Find children’s books with deaf characters, like the ones we produce, dolls, teddies or other toys that include hearing technology."

Helen Phillips, Specialist Deaf Outreach Worker, and Ruth Street, Clinical Psychologist.
"Developing a sense that ‘being deaf is OK’ helps deaf children’s emotional wellbeing. Finding ways to connect with other deaf people can help them find their place in the world. Google activities in your local area like sports for the deaf."

Josie, mum to Maia (15), who has Treacher Collins Syndrome and moderate to severe hearing loss.
"Being deaf may only be a small part of your child’s identity. For teens, music, fashion, sport, hobbies and friends are very much at the fore. Advocating for themselves at school, sharing experiences and interests, and being a voice for other deaf children may help build confidence in the deaf part of their identity."

Martin McLean, Post-14 Education Policy Lead.
"Remember, you can be deaf in your own way. Some people have a fixed idea of how deaf people should behave and what they should believe – ignore that. You are who you are and if others can’t accept that, there will be plenty who do."

Kirsty (18) who is moderately deaf.
"Your experiences of being deaf give you a unique perspective on the world. This is such an asset. Think about the things you can do because of your deafness, for example: signing, lip-reading, being good at facial expression and non-verbal communication."

What can I do if my child is struggling with their identity?

As well as some of the things we’ve already discussed, here are some tips for supporting your child to develop their own sense of identity if you feel they’re struggling with it.

  • Praise all efforts to be proud of their deafness. Even if it’s something small, like asking someone to repeat something they’ve missed, small steps will help instil independence and build confidence.
  • It’s easier to say ‘I can’t’ than ‘I can.’ It can be easier to look at the negatives than the positives. As parents we need to recognise that sometimes it’s hard for children to be positive all the time, but by trying to understand why they feel like they do and helping them think of strategies to manage situations for next time, their confidence will build.
  • Encourage your child to manage their own technology. Even that small responsibility will help them to know more about their technology, how it works and give them more confidence when explaining it to others.
  • Agree with your child easy ways they can feel confident to ask for support when needed, instead of feeling that they can’t speak up and ask for what they need.
  • Try and find ways your child can connect with other deaf children. Many deaf children can be the only deaf child in a mainstream school and meeting other deaf children will help build that strong sense of deaf identity that’s so important for them. This might be through a local deaf children’s society.
  • Try to make deafness as ‘normal’ as possible – always remind your child that difference is what makes the world interesting and, therefore, deafness makes the world interesting.

Charlie Raine, Counsellor in training, who is deafened, gives advice to deaf young people which you can pass on to your child.
“If you’re struggling to accept your deafness, tell someone you trust how you feel. Admit to your friends if you can’t keep up socially. Explain the situations you find challenging so they can adapt to your needs. There’s no right way to be deaf. Stay true to yourself. Connect with the deaf community when you’re ready.”

How to get more support

After you’ve tried these suggestions, you might find you still need extra help and support. As well as contacting our Helpline, here are some useful websites. We also have information sessions that explore self-esteem and deaf identity.