How do you get a Preschooler to Listen?

Editor's note:  Recently, parents wrote in to the Hands & Voices website concerned about the behavior of their late identified child with a severe to profound hearing loss.  This three year old boy seemed to willfully disobey and was aggressive toward members of his family.  Dinah Beams, a CoHear in the Denver Metro area, gives this input: 

Dear Mom and Dad,

Granted, I do not have a magic wand, so if I say something which is not applicable to your situation, please excuse me.

How do you get a Preschooler to Listen?

Children need to know the rules and need to know that we are consistent in our application of these rules.  This takes a lot of energy!

When you are communicating with him, really monitor your facial expression.  Sometimes we do not communicate a clear message to the child because our facial expression is not matching our words.  If this happens, your child will focus on your facial expression - not your words.  For example, I was working with one mom whose 30 month old son ignored her when she said no!  She would sign "no" and he would laugh and keep doing whatever.  Mom was terribly frustrated.  I taught her to sign "stop!" instead when she really wanted her son to change his behavior.  The first time she signed STOP, he paused looked at her and burst into tears!  He had gotten the message.  In this situation, when mom signed no, she had a half smile on her face - he thought she was teasing.  When she signed "STOP" her face was very firm and he knew she meant it.  Another example is with the sign "don't touch".  You can sign "not" and "touch" - but that often confuses a young child.  You can also sign a combination "don't touch" while shaking your head which is very clear to them. Deaf parents or deaf adults can often be very helpful in assisting you with figuring out better ways to communicate with your child.  If you have an avenue to meet deaf adults in your community, I would encourage you to do this.

Not having met your child, I am doing some guessing here.  You are probably right in assuming that some of the issues you are dealing with are related to frustration around communication.  Often deaf or hard of hearing children are not aware of what is going to happen next and this may create difficulties with transition.  Many times they have missed the nuances and conversation that lets them know the family is going to the store or whatever.  You will need to make sure that your son knows what to expect.  If you lack the sign vocabulary to explain this, you might want to develop a picture calendar so that you can show him a picture and he knows what will happen next.  Some families that have digital cameras have even developed a different calendar for each day, including photos of the speech therapist or whomever so that their child knows what is going to happen.  You could use this concept to reinforce the sign.

Children need to know the rules and need to know that we are consistent in our application of these rules.  This takes a lot of energy! If your son has learned in the past that if he persists you will eventually give in - it may take longer for him to come around to your way of thinking. Just hang in there and be consistent.  Even if behavior starts off as a problem due to communication difficulties, it can progress to where the behavior becomes a problem on its own.  It sounds like that may be where you are at.  This is exhausting as a parent!

Is your son in preschool?  If so, could you work with the school to develop some consistent expectations, so that he knows the rules are the same both places?  Is the school reporting some of the same issues?  If so, do they have any ideas as to how to handle them?

There are other circumstances that are manifested in behavior issues.

For example, some children have sensory integration issues. SI issues can be manifested in several ways, but a child may crave more sensory input than his peers or conversely he might tolerate less sensory input than his peers.  I just mention this so that you are aware of this situation.

Again, your son's teacher or therapist should be able to help you if this is the case.

There are a couple of books (or books on tape if you prefer) that you might find helpful.  These deal with parenting issues.  The first is Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster Cline.  It is a great resource, and although written for parents of hearing children, has many useful principles.  Some communities teach this as a course - you might want to check.  It is generally an 8 week parenting course.  Another book which you might find helpful is Kid Friendly Parenting with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children by Medwid and Weston.  You might also want to check out the video series, Sign with Me.  Volume 3 of this series deals with discipline, handling tantrums, and teaching appropriate behaviors.  This video might be particularly helpful because it focuses on the signs you need to teach and discipline very young children.

I hope some of this information is helpful.  Please disregard anything that does not apply.  I was pretty general - it is hard to be otherwise when you do not know the child.  Every child is so unique. So, some of it might help, some of it might not.

Good luck and hang in there!
Dinah Beams, MA
Colorado Hearing Resource Coordinator
University of Colorado

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