Parenting Stress Among Parents of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children

The issue

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For virtually all parents, caring for a child is an experience full of successes and joys, as well as challenges and stress. Parenting stress is a distinct type of stress related to the strain individuals face in their role as parents, and can be defined as an undesirable psychological reaction to the demands of being a parent. This specific type of stress arises when the demands of parenting and raising a child outstrip a parent’s coping resources. Although parenting stress is a common occurrence, the experience of intense, frequent, or chronic parenting stress may decrease psychological well-being and reduce one’s ability to raise and manage a child. It could also impact the parent-child relationship and negatively affect the child’s development.

The experiences of parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) are similar in many ways to those of parents of children without hearing loss. However, there are a variety of unique demands and long-term challenges in raising children with hearing loss in a world where the majority of the surrounding population is typically hearing. Moreover, approximately 95 percent of DHH children are born to hearing parents, who often have little experience with individuals who are DHH.

What do we know?

The literature shows mixed findings as to whether parenting stress levels are higher in parents of children who are DHH compared with those of children with normal hearing. One consistent finding is that parents of children who are DHH experience a higher level of stress that is directly related to challenges associated with the experiences of raising a child who is DHH. Some of these challenges are associated with the demands of the parenting role that include specific task demands. Examples include decision-making about medical, educational, and communication options, attending frequent medical and therapy appointments, learning and managing amplification devices, and supporting their child’s educational progress and access to appropriate services.

Other stressors are related to interpersonal relationships, including relationships with the child, spouse, other children in the family, as well as relationships with professionals. Stressors can be also related to child characteristics such as the child’s communication abilities, learning abilities, and behavior. Children’s language and communication difficulties often impact the family’s daily interactions and might lead to frustration for both the child and parent. These difficulties can also lead to child behavior problems that are known as a major cause for parenting stress.Parents have a significant role in supporting their children’s intervention, learning and overall development. Higher levels of parenting stress may impede parents’ ability to support their children and implement interventions to help them. Moreover, parents play an important role in teaching their children how to successfully cope with negative feelings and challenging experiences. The more parents experience stress, the less they will be able to teach their children coping strategies and support their social and emotional development and well-being.

What don’t we know?

There is a need to increase our knowledge regarding parenting stress protective factors, such as social support and coping strategies, as these may be important factors to consider in interventions. Additionally, most studies focus on parents of children in early childhood; thus, there is need to understand the challenges parents are experiencing beyond this time period, such as during adolescence. There is also a need for a comprehensive understanding of how parenting stress and children’s communication and behavior change together over time. This knowledge may help determine the most effective methods of facilitating change in the family environment to maximize children’s chances of successful outcomes. Likewise, there is a high need for implementing and evaluating intervention programs that focus on supporting parents and providing parenting stress management.

Implications

Intervention programs have an important role in the promotion of parent well-being. Ongoing surveillance of parent stress should be part of any treatment program. On one hand, interventions should identify families’ specific stressors and challenges in order to reduce the stressors and provide support best matched to a family’s needs. On the other hand, interventions need to focus on the enhancement of parents’ adaptive capacities and adjustment. Professionals should work together with families to provide adequate services and support, and enhance protective mechanisms and resources that target families’ specific needs. This is a significant component of providing family-centered care that supports and empowers families of children who are DHH. Interventions such as these will strengthen families to meet the challenges in their daily lives and provide the best support to their children.

Posted on October 1, 2014 by
Anat Zaidman-Zait
Tel Aviv University
Anatzaidman {at} post.tau.ac.il

Further reading

Hintermair, M. (2006). Parental resources, parental stress, and socioemotional development of deaf and hard of hearing children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11, 493-513.view details

Poon, B.T., & Zaidman-Zait, A. (2014) Social support for parents of deaf or hard of hearing children: Moving towards a contextualized understanding. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19, 176-188. view details

Zaidman-Zait, A. (2007). Parenting a child with a cochlear implant: A critical incident study. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 221-241. view details