Parental Stress and Deaf Children

The issue

Parental stress occurs when parents or caregivers feel unprepared or overwhelmed by the demands associated with caring for a child. Most parents have experienced stress related to caring for a child, but parents of deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children may experience unique sources of stress. For example, for parents of children who use hearing technology might experience stress around learning how to care for and use the technology. It is possible that parents of DHH children may experience more intense stress compared to parents of children with typical hearing. Parental stress is not only harmful for parents themselves, can but also have a negative impact on children.

What we know

  • Parents of DHH children have similar kinds of stress to parents of children with typical hearing

Parents of DHH children report experiencing similar causes of stress to that of parents of children with typical hearing, stemming from things like daily parenting tasks, concern about resources to care for kids, or worries about child safety and development.

  • Parents of DHH children also have unique sources of stress

Some sources of stress are unique to parenting DHH children, such as the financial cost of intervention-related care, providing emotional support to their child who is navigating their identity as a individual who is DHH, and helping their child develop self-esteem and self-advocacy skills related to their deafness. Families pursuing cochlear implantation report stress related to the decision to implant their child.

  • What is considered a stressor differs based on identity of the parent

Stressors may differ for parents who are DHH compared to parents who have typical hearing. For instance, parents who are typical hearing may experience stress surrounding the identification of hearing loss. Many parents have preexisting expectations about their child’s future. They may feel stress because they do not think they have the adequate resources to address or cope with parenting a DHH child.

  • No higher stress levels in parents of children who are DHH vs. typical hearing

Looking at overall parental stress, research does not show higher stress levels in hearing parents of DHH children relative to those of children with typical hearing. However, some studies of show higher stress when parents were asked about stressors specific to having a DHH children, such as being a language model for their child, navigating educational decisions, and daily hearing technology management.

  • Stress in parents of DHH children differs depending on parent and child characteristics

Parents experience higher levels of stress when DHH children have accompanying disabilities, more behavioral problems, and poorer communication abilities, and when the parents themselves have less social support, lower self-esteem, and fewer personal resources (e.g., financial).

  • Stressors may change as DHH children grow

Stress does not necessarily decrease over time, but issues change as the child grows. For example, research suggests that parents of school-age children with cochlear implants have similar levels of overall stress, but lower levels of stress related specifically to communication, safety, and device maintenance, as compared to parents of young cochlear implant candidates.

What we don’t know

While we have an idea of who might need additional support to reduce parent stress, we still do not have research on which types of programs or techniques best provide knowledge and support to parents of DHH children. We know that family-centered care is key, but the delivery of this care needs further research.

Implications

  • Professionals should talk with parents about their well-being

It is important for professionals working with families of DHH children to have conversations with parents about their own well-being, the stress they feel, and the barriers they encounter in supporting their children. Some parents may benefit from referral to a professional trained in family counseling, such as a therapist or psychologist, to help discuss areas of stress and learn stress reduction techniques.

  • Social and community support is key

Stress is lessened in parents who have social support, such as friends and family providing emotional care and resources. In-person or online support groups for parents of DHH children also can offer an outlet for parents to share their experiences, obtain advice, and connect to other adults with similar backgrounds.

  • Family-centered care is not one size fits all

Professionals should consider the unique experiences and well-being status of parents in supporting intervention in DHH children. Not every parent experiences the same stressors and stress levels, so parents – and subsequently DHH children – will benefit from more individualized consideration and support.

Posted on April 20, 2021 by
Kathryn Wiseman
Boys Town National Research Hospital
kathryn.wiseman{at}boystown.org

Andrea Warner-Czyz
The University of Texas at Dallas
warnerczyz{at}utdallas.edu

Further reading