Why is Social Emotional Learning/Development so Important? 

Recapped by Kim Shauer based on a presentation by Tara Dyck

As proud parents we typically love sharing our children’s developmental progress, often focusing on physical and language milestones. Like with our hearing children, we also need to be intentional about teaching our deaf/hard of hearing children Social Emotional Learning/Development skills. 

BC Hands & Voices recently hosted a parent evening where Deaf/Hard of Hearing Guide Tara Dyck presented to us. She is a mental health therapist and has both personal and professional knowledge and practice in teaching and supporting Social Emotional Learning/Development skills. 

Here are some of the key messages and resources shared:

  • Early Social Emotional Learning/Development is particularly important because it provides a critical foundation for general life success. Good communication skills top the list and this can be of particular concern for deaf and hard of hearing children (dhh) because the majority of dhh children are born to hearing parents (which meant for them, communication and language were acquired without much effort as they grew up). Some dhh children tend to be more visual than auditory, therefore auditory cues and spoken language/communication may not always be accessible to them. Having an accessible language/communication method is so important for building Social Emotional Learning/Development skills. Be encouraged though, hearing parents are capable of providing access to language for their child and early intervention providers and many others are available to support learning. 
  • Good Social Emotional Learning/Development skills produce positive qualities such as good self-direction, self-control, being able to think independently, show empathy and understand one’s own feelings as well as those of others. Some other good qualities are particularly important for functioning well in our multicultural world today, such as understanding the perspectives of others, knowing when dependence and interdependence on others is needed, and being able to understand and appreciate both one’s own and others’ cultures. 
  • Age-appropriate social-emotional behaviour supports self-esteem, self-confidence, healthy relationships, flexibility, and the ability to attain socially approved goals. 
  • As we all know, infants and toddlers THRIVE on close relationships with their parents/caregivers. Through these experiences, they develop positive self-esteem and trust in others. Parents may need to provide their dhh infants and toddlers with slightly different experiences in order to develop the same levels of positive self- esteem and trust. 
  • dhh children, like hearing children, need to feel special to someone and be well cared for. All (!) children who have  warm affectionate relationships with their parents/caregivers are more likely to feel safe and secure, be confident, have healthy self-esteem, be positive about others, be socially adjusted and achieve. Give your child lots of affection – lots of cuddles and holding hands. Have patience and talk to them in reassuring ways – in a language that is accessible to them – whether it be spoken or sign or both!
  • Be a playmate for your dhh children and show interest in the things that they like to do. Introduce them to activities (i.e. hiking, biking, swimming, observing nature like birds, art/crafts, etc.). When your child is ready, show them how to take turns and share. Provide opportunities for them to play with other children and make friends, ideally with both other dhh children as well as with hearing peers. Connect with other parents of dhh children. Hands & Voices and early intervention programs can help provide these opportunities and connections.
  • Spencer and Koester (2015) stress the importance of parents using TACTILE CONTACT to help their deaf infants calm, soothe, and comfort themselves. Tactile contact also reinforces parent-child bonding along with vision, movement, rhythm, pacing, mirroring, and following the child’s lead. These skills can be learned and are simple and easy to incorporate into daily interactions. 

(Spencer, P. E. & Koester, L. S. (2015). Nurturing language and learning development of deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.) 

  • Social Emotional Development in Infants/Toddlers. The chart below is not exclusive to hearing infants/toddlers. This is applicable to dhh infants/toddlers too! The only modifications that MAY NEED to be made for dhh infants/toddlers are more tactile contact; visual language vs. auditory spoken language; meeting/socializing with other dhh infants/toddlers; and, often, hearing parents’ ACCEPTANCE of their dhh child – see next bullet point for more on this!

  • How do you see your child? This can have a negative or a positive effect on your Deaf/HH infant/toddler’s Social Emotional Learning/Development. Some current research is showing that hearing parents not only cope with and adjust to having a child who is deaf/hard of hearing, but are also focusing on the positive effects that raising a deaf/HH child CAN have on the family system (“Deaf Gain”). Do you feel pride? Gratitude? Curiosity? 
  • Hearing parents can have a variety of reactions to having a dhh child, and Tara has seen many, both socially and in her practice. The feelings of grief and fearfulness experienced by many hearing parents may not go away, but it seems more hearing parents are also feeling hopeful and proud of raising a dhh child. Generally hearing parents are starting to acknowledge the views from the disability model vs. the Deaf cultural linguistic model of deafness, AND that both views can co-exist. 
  • Think of ways to empower your dhh child. Give them responsibilities and chores around the house. Provide rewards. Talk about using the rewards, i.e. buying toys they really want and then going to toy stores to spend the money. Recognize and praise their successes. Providing lots of praise can go a long way in helping children be proud of who they are and being confident self-advocates. (Advocacy skills will come in very handy when they are older!)
  • There are also ways to support your child’s emotional development.  When all (including dhh!) infants reach 9-12 months, identifying/naming emotions is an important skill to start and reinforce. Have fun copying the emotions/faces with your dhh infant/toddler. Use a similar emotion sheet while interacting/teaching emotions. This is very important in developing self validation and being able to regulate emotions, and to build/maintain positive and healthy relationships.

Here is a list of useful resources:

  • A favourite resource Tara shares is Michelle ASL – YouTube for great ASL stories and nursery rhymes to enjoy with your child. We learned how important a baby’s emotional development is to lay the foundation for relationships with others.
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