I'm completely deaf in one ear: how do I teach my children to help me hear them?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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By: epSos .deCC BY 2.0
I'm completely deaf in my right ear, and I'm a parent to a toddler and a preschooler. I need to be able to read lips to most effectively hear people when they speak, and preschoolers are notoriously unintelligible in the best of circumstances. I try to teach my kids to look at my face when they speak so I can hear them, but it doesn't often work.

I'm curious to know what Deaf and other hard of hearing parents are doing to help their hearing children understanding different needs and abilities. What are coping strategies for getting kids (and spouses!) to quit mumbling and look at me? — Hunny

(P.S. Before anyone suggests telling them repeatedly to quit mumbling and look at me, it hasn't been working.)

  1. Could you try to teach the preschooler with empathy? (I know the toddler would be too young for this)
    But have them wear earplugs/ear muffs in the house and make it into a game, can they hear you better when you mumble/speak clear or when you hide your mouth?

    Maybe that way they might begin to understand why you keep asking them to speak clear and look at you?

  2. My sister is fully Deaf. In our family home, it was always understood that if you mumbled or turned away from her (she uses ASL, but being able to see someone's face is still important for context and other reasons), she could (gently!) reach out and turn your chin towards her. Of course, this only works in the home!

    As for telling them to speak up, sign language can be very effective in these situations (even if you don't want to use ASL full-time, it can help). Visual cues work really well with kids a lot of times (and they tend to remember them). Depending on your needs, here are a few you might want to teach them:

    What: http://lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-signs/w/what.htm

    Loud: http://www.lifeprint.com/

    Clear: http://www.lifeprint.com/ (technically, this can mean other things as well, but it'll do the job)

    Hand gestures and visual cues can be really effective with kids, so maybe these can help it stick in their heads that they need to speak clearly. I'm not saying this will work for you, but it helped our family out a lot.

  3. I know this isn't technically what you were asking for, but have you ever thought about getting a CROS aid? I'm functionally deaf in my left ear (I can hear some sounds, but not speech) and getting a CROS aid has helped me to communicate with people who are quieter or tend to mumble. My fiancé is a mumbler and has problems with eye contact, so the CROS aid helps us a lot! 🙂

    • hmm, thats a new-fangled thingy Ive never seen before..its worth looking into. I imagine they are expensive..?

      • Without health insurance it's about $3000 and with my insurance they were only $300. They're not cheap, but for me they were definitely worth the cost.

  4. Something that may be helpful, especially with your oldest, asking her to repeat what she has said in a different way? Maybe use different words. Sometimes it's helpful to rephrase things, because different words are heard differently. If the CROS aid is a possibility, that will help as well.

  5. Im really hoping that the answer doesnt involve me having an implant or an expensive hearing aid, because I think its also important that my children learn to speak clearly and to someones face regardless of how well the person they speak to can hear. I personally, usually hear everything else pretty well. Music, TV, other people…

    • How will a CI affect the way your children learn to speak? It wasn't my initial thought for you, nor do I think it's the best option.

      I think the very best thing here, and what will benefit you the most would be some modification on the other end (your kids). Like I said, it can be something as simple as re-phrasing and it will also help to expand their vocabulary. So…it's beneficial all around. Try it out…see if you can ask them something like this:
      "Can you ask me that/tell me that with different words?" You'd be surprised how well kids can do this, and I have no doubt that with some practice, your kids can too!

      • I think Hunny was saying that she did not want to have to resort to "aids" in order to be able to communicate with her children. And also that it would be nice if her kids grew up to be people who spoke clearly whilst facing other people.

        Not saying that a CI would affect her children directly per se.

  6. I am a right leg amputee mom, so I can understand your situation to some extent. I recommend persistence. My daughter would always get underfoot and be totally unhelpful. Each day she understands more and does more of what I need her to do. But it required a lot of reminding. She now tells everyone else what she needs to do to be helpful. It just took time and repetition.

    • I appreciate that input, but like I said in the original post, its not working. I ask my oldest nearly every time she says "Mommy, miffgfflls mmsedkdjldf mmmphh?" I then say, "Honey mommy cant hear you unless I can see your mouth, please look at me" and we do that 3 or 4 more times and most of the time she gets tired of repeating herself long before she actually follows the directive and actually looks at me when she speaks to me.

      My husband and I have been together 7 years and he still doesnt speak clearly even after the third or fourth time I have asked him to repeat something. Something isnt clicking with them, and its not me. I can hear everyone else.

      • It's possible that your kids are using your husband as a role model, if he doesn't demonstrate speaking clearly, trying to ensure that he is understood the first time, or even getting irritated with the repeating bits, and you are "allowing" this to happen, then your kids will learn that this behaviour is OK.

        • Im not allowing anything. I ask him and my children both to speak clearly and I also tell him that he is setting a poor example to them by mumbling. However, in the culture he was raised it, mumbling is common and habitual. He is also a grown ass man, and I can only ask, not tell him what to do.

  7. My dad is hard of hearing, and growing up we had a household rule (for HoH and hearing family members) : "If I didn't respond to what you said, I didn't hear you".

    This puts the onus on the communicator to confirm that s/he is being heard– if, for example, I say something to Dad and his response is incongruous with what I said, I know he likely didn't hear me and I need to either rephrase or repeat.

    Over the years we learned to modulate our voices differently so Dad could hear our pitch better (I have a notoriously difficult voice to hear), and we also grew old enough to know that Dad had difficulty hearing consonant sounds and were able to alter our words to less consonant-heavy synonyms.

    I practice this with my own young family because, as a general rule, it usually helps keeps others mindful of their interactions. Also as a general rule, we push push push looking people in the eyes when you speak with them (I know this is hard for some people, so it's a bit of trading one sensitivity for another), which is one of the ways we help our kids to make sense of talking with my dad, who otherwise doesn't hear the pitch of their voices or mine.

    • My family has the same unwritten rule – "If I don't answer, I didn't hear you." (my mom is deaf in her left ear). It drives my husband nuts because I often repeat myself to him if he doesn't acknowledge me right away, but growing up with a partially deaf parent I just became used to operating that way.

  8. Obviously, part of the problem is the little ones not making actual eye contact with you, but would it be possible to start some kind of non-verbal signal for when they do? I'm reminded of some of the teaching tactics I've learned to get kids to speak quieter (or louder), to be silent, to listen, etc. For instance, maybe training the oldest one to realize that when she starts to talk and you put your hand to your ear or make some other kind of hand signal, she has to speak slower or clearer, otherwise, she won't get a response from you other than the signal. I think sometimes kids tune out verbal requests when we make them over and over. Which is maddening. But y'know. 😛

    I'm not technically hearing impaired, but I definitely have worse hearing than most people, particularly on the phone, and I can tell you, some people that are mumblers are just mumblers. Forever. And nothing I can do can get them to stop mumbling, no matter how many times I ask them to repeat themselves. My younger brother is notorious. And it's not just my opinion – my husband has heard him and agreed that he's a hardcore mumbler.

    • Maybe this is outdated, but you could consider elocution/speech lessons for your family if you suspect that they are inveterate mumblers.

    • Heehee – sometimes, I think about whether I should be doing something differently with my hearing limitations, and then I remember, it's mostly the mumbling! And I CANNOT fix mumblers. They are maddening. 😛 Especially when I'm driving and my little brother is in the backseat. Forget it. 🙂

  9. I am a Deaf person (from a large Deaf family) and Auslan is my first language. I do speak and lipread fluently as well. I'm pregnant with my first child. I feel confident that if my child is hearing, he or she will have to learn that the onus is on them. They will learn to use Auslan and to speak clearly. This will be non-negotiable for the kid, especially because my mother cannot lipread or speak. I have many friends who don't speak or lipread either.

    However, I do have many Deaf friends with hearing children who can be hard to understand because they are reluctant to sign or just feel more comfortable speaking (because they might mainly speak with their parents), when I come across a communication issue with these kids, I will do any of the following, and sometimes all of the following(!):

    *Explain that I cannot understand them because of reasons (noisy backgrounds, they are not being clear/facing me, I am tired and unable to follow, whatever), so could they please repeat themselves.
    *I might say, did you say such and such, if I've grasped the subject matter, and then they say yes, then I go, OK, what about this topic? Get some clarification and then let them explain.
    *I ask them to sign to me.
    *I hate doing this, but sometimes I will ask the other child for clarification if I have tried and failed to understand them too many times.
    *I might ask them to come with me to a quieter area and ask them to repeat themselves.
    *Sometimes they are just being silly and just want to say random stuff because they can, if you can determine this is the case, just let it go.

  10. As a teacher of 3-5 year olds I would say it is just quite natural for them to speak, facing the other direction – especially if they are telling you about something that's happened or something they have made – they look in the direction of the object and you can't hear a thing they're saying! They're quite happy to get right up in your face saying Miss! Miss! or whatever they call you to get your attention, but then they turn away for the details. It is so frustrating, but definitely a little kid thing. I'm not hearing impaired but I wonder if some of the tactics we employ would help.

    We hardly ever verbally ask the children to look at us when they speak as this tends not to be very effective – it's hard for them to listen to you, process your speech and change their speech/actions accordingly when all they want to do is say "I need the toilet!" and run out of the room.

    We tend to follow more what Rhobi said as children learn better through exprience
    – so we either pretend to have heard and respond to them with something obviously unrelated to what they said e.g. "That's nice, how many elephants do you have in your spaceship?"
    – Or don't say or do anything in response to their mumbles – look at the piece of work on the table or have a conversation with someone else

    Obviously it's an individual situation and we are very careful dealing with young children, especially any with speech impediments or immatuirities in speech. But it honestly does work very quickly in nursery/school as generally children want to express themsleves and want to be heard. Plus they are natural problem solvers and will quickly realise what is and isn't working.

  11. I don't know from your initial question how much hearing you have in your left ear. I grew up with a dad who was profoundly deaf in his left ear and hearing in his right ear. I am one of four and as children we were always told to make sure we were on dad's good side so that he could hear us and mum demonstrated this behaviour. we didn't and still don't get a response if we try talking to him from his wrong side or without making eye contact. Teaching my husband this now so that he can communicate with my dad.
    The other problem we had was that my younger sister had a speech impediment (possibly caused by being the youngest of four and never getting a word in edgeways) and was impossible for my dad to understand. She was also difficult for others to understand. As a result my sister had speech therapy before she started school. This was fun for her and improved her speech massively, making her much clearer and easier for my dad to understand.
    I think as we all got a little older it got easier but especially once I understood (I'm the eldest) and was able to remind my younger siblings too that dad wouldn't hear them if they were behind him/ on his left/ he didn't know they were talking to him/ they were talking too quickly.

  12. I think you've received some great advice here, and I don't have a hearing impairment, so I can't add any insight there. But my mom is hearing-impaired, so I thought I'd just give you the child's perspective:

    I was a very talkative, gregarious child, and as glitterpixie has astutely noted, I would have done anything to ensure that my mom heard me when I wanted to be heard. So while I don't remember if I was a mumbler or did a lot of talking with my back turned as a small child, I definitely know that by the time I was 5 or 6, I was a VERY CLEAR speaker with everyone. Even now, as an adult, I speak pretty clearly in general, and automatically slip into an evenly-paced, completely-enunciated way of speaking whenever I'm talking to anyone who I think may not understand me otherwise (ESL speakers, the very elderly, people at loud parties). Also, I never realized this till my husband pointed it out, but I usually assume someone's not really listening to me if they're not looking at me, ha!

    My point being: this time is likely very rough for communication, as your children are so small still. But I fully believe that it will ultimately be very beneficial for their communication skills, both as older children and as adults. Just gotta get through this part. 🙂

  13. My mother was/is completely deaf in one ear and partially in the other. She reads lips just as you do. She had five children. It was difficult for her when we were toddlers and preschoolers, but with repeatedly telling us to speak clearly and to look at her, we were able to communicate wonderfully as we got older. By age four, we just knew what to do. We got used to telling grocery store clerks and bank tellers that she couldn't understand what they were saying unless she could see their lips. I remember getting frustrated some times when she couldn't understand a word that I was trying to say. But it was all just part of how we grew up. I agree with Abby above. Time will make it so much easier. And they will be fabulous communicators. All five of us are! Good luck to you!

  14. My mother is completely deaf in her left ear and has been since she was a child. She doesn't use or know ASL and she never formally/consciously learned how to read lips. She has told me that she thinks she unconsciously picked up lip-reading and probably relies on that quite a bit without realizing it. When I was little she didn't have any methods for improving communication – I just kind of figured my mom was a bit of a space cadet and sometimes wouldn't hear me when I talked to her. It wasn't until I got a little older that I realized she wasn't checked out, she was just partially deaf. Then (terrible child that I was) I started to do really annoying things like call her name in a busy store and watch her turn this way and that trying to locate which direction I was in. I was kind of a jerk as a toddler.

    When I grew out of that annoying phase, I guess around age five or six, I fell into the patterns of behavior that my mom and dad used to make communicating easier. For instance, if we went out to dinner either my dad or I would sit on her left (deaf) side because we didn't mind if she didn't hear us or if we had to repeat ourselves and we would let the other members of our party sit on her right or across from her so she could see and hear them more easily. Now I just naturally gravitate towards my mom's left side during social settings. Your kids will get the hang of it eventually!

  15. As a deaf mother (I wear aids in both ears) to a 5 yr old and a 3 yr old, we've relied on a lot of reinforcement & reminding, from both myself and my hearing husband. I just remind the kids "I can't understand what you're saying because you're not looking at me." With my 3 yr old, sometimes I gently guide her face towards me by cupping her chin with my hand. I'm also very fortunate that both my children have clear, articulate voices and I think some of that has come from the people around me who've learned how best to speak to me. So, you can try a little home speech therapy by modeling enunciation for them. In the end, it just takes time, maturity and reinforcement of good habits. (By the way, I wrote on a similar topic for this website about two years ago. Do a search for my name and it'll come up.)

    • I missed the part about your husband! With him, you definitely need to be harder on him about it because it comes down to him respecting your needs. There's no excuse for him to not be more conscious of his speech & communication. I've had to "train" my husband in deaf communication… Belabor the topic enough times & they start to get it.

  16. I have a similar problem but from a different cause. I am autistic and have auditory processing issues. With my three (also autistic) kids I have had to convey that I cannot pay attention to what they are saying if they don't look at my face (eye contact is hard so I don't stress that one much). It may sound harsh, but if they want something and haven't come to talk "to my face" I ignore them until they do. If it's important, they will be motivated to communicate they way they already know works, if not, it must not be that important. It saves me from being the nagging mom and they get what they want. Relaxing and after just a little adjustment time, win-win.

  17. Lots of good advice so far.
    We have a child who chooses not to use her voice when she speaks about 90% of the time. She hears well and CAN speak, and i can read her lips most of the time, but we finally just stopped responding to her when she was mouthing without actually speaking and that helped her learn that she had to use her voice if she wanted something.
    Not responding to requests for a cookie or a treat if they are not communicating in the way that you have asked them to might help reinforce the correct behavior.

    Another thing you could do is bend down to face level with your child so they can better experience direct eye contact as well. Maybe even teach the little one to hold your hands while they talk so that you can better control where they are looking and gently remind them to focus on communicating well.

    Learning some basic signs for hard to pronounce words might be helpful too.

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