By Anja Rosenke
‘Tis the season for sharing and making memories. Your calendar is likely full of fun gatherings, outings and shopping – occasions that can sometimes make it hard for your child to hear or feel included. As parents of deaf and hard of hearing children, we need to be especially mindful that our children are fully involved during this special time of year. Providing visual aids, ensuring they have optimal amplification and arranging for the best possible hearing and signing environments should be top of our ‘To Do’ lists over the holidays. Here, we’d like to share a few of our tips to help you on your way.
Set the Stage – Make an Experience Book. Get your child excited about the holidays by cutting out images from old greeting cards, magazines or wrapping paper, and pasting them into a little booklet about the holidays. This builds vocabulary, and knowledge builds confidence. You can listen to, sing or sign holiday songs while you’re crafting, and your child will love spending one-on-one time together. Look up ASL videos of Christmas carols on Youtube!
Make a Schedule – And post it on the fridge. Depending on your child’s age, use pictures, drawings or words, and take a few minutes each morning to talk about the day’s plans. Better yet, involve your child in the planning with suggestions of baking cookies, making cards or visiting Santa. Make dates for these special activities together. A calendar also offers a great way for your child to count down to the big day!
Talk Tradition – Holiday traditions are a rich part of family life and foster a sense of togetherness. They are unique to each individual family and are often shared by word of mouth. Does your deaf or hard of hearing child know why that angel ornament is so special to you? Share and explain your own traditions, like putting out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve or making latkes for Hanukkah. And when you visit Aunt Clara for her annual tree-trimming party, your child will feel great about knowing what to do ahead of time.
Sign Warm Up – It’s time to amp up your holiday sign vocabulary! Set aside some time to review or learn some important holiday signs so that your child can enjoy conversations rich in language at this special time of year. If you already know the signs for Santa Claus, presents and sleigh, you are on your way. But will you be ready when the kids ask you to explain why we hang mistletoe?
Say ‘Cheese’! – Compile a set of photos of extended family members who are coming to town but may not be familiar to your child. Whether you simply slide the photos into a Dollar Store photo album or store them on your phone, a visual aid like this will help your child to put names to faces, and also instill a sense of belonging to your larger family network. By telling a funny story about an uncle or cousin as you go through the photos, your child may remember them better and get excited about meeting them. For the really adventurous, include a map of where each person lives or draw out a simple family tree.
Come All or Just a Few – When celebrating the holidays, join a smaller, more intimate group whenever possible. This will reduce noise levels and make communication easier for your deaf or hard of hearing child. This isn’t always possible though, so preparing your child for the type of party or gathering it is ahead of time will help. Bring back-up! Move the youngsters to a quieter area with a board game or holiday DVD to watch. This is a great way for your child to feel included, which will in turn make the event more enjoyable for everyone. Make sure captions are turned on for the film!
You’re invited – Move the party to your place. Then YOU can set the music volume, plan the seating arrangement and decide on the number of guests. Your child will also feel more comfortable and confident on home turf. Have your child greet people at the door, give tours of the house or set up a coat check (tips welcome!). At the very least, they can show off their bedroom and toys, but they might be game to teach the group a holiday song in sign. You’re the maestro of the orchestra at your house.
Step outside – Taking a walk after dinner to enjoy the bright and festive decorations adorning homes in your neighbourhood makes for a wonderfully language-rich experience. If the weather doesn’t suit, many stores and businesses downtown or in your local mall dress their windows with elaborate holiday displays for your family to enjoy as well.
The holidays are a time for enjoyment, spending time with loved ones and making memories. With some forethought and planning, your deaf or hard of hearing child can experience these special occasions fully and richly as well.