There are many behavior changes a child may experience as he or she goes through life. These are behavior issues related to feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, and irritability. They can become problematic when a child is unable to control or appropriately express them.
Sometime deaf children have no way to name, categorize, or normalize the emotions they feel.
They need an “emotional education” to learn what it is that they are feeling (feeling signal), words and names for those feelings, and appropriate actions for expressing them.
Poor Ability To Identify Feeling States. Feeling states are the internal sensation of emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, and fear.
If a deaf child, is taught to categorize feelings by words/signs, the feelings do not become overwhelming, frightening, and out of control.
When able to identify and acknowledge what they are feeling, the child is more likely to get the support he or she needs.
Children need ongoing instruction and assistance to manage their feelings effectively. I recommend using the following three-step process:
- Learning to recognize feeling signals by observing others and noticing others and noticing how an emotion feels in his or her own body. Examples are tightening of the jaw, clenching the fist, a fluttering in the stomach, and a flush of heat to the head.
- Identifying and naming a feeling. Ask your child what a particular feeling signal indicates. “You got all red in the face, were you mad? embarrassed?”
- Learning what to do with a feeling. You can help your child identify how an expression of a feeling can have positive or negative results.
Your child may have a particular physical makeup that makes her sensitive to touch, foods, noises, lightening, or gravity.
Because of the way your child’s central nervous system reads stimulation, he or she may exhibit emotional expression in a manner that seems extreme (e.g. the child hits if her hair is played with).
If you want to investigate this possibility further, contact an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory defensiveness and deafness.
Consider and rule out possible physical causes of your child’s mood, such as fatigue, hunger, or over-stimulation. Plan ahead in order to avoid situations that may frustrate a tired or overstimulated child.
Praise your child when he or she expresses herself appropriately. Be patient. As your child matures, so will his or her ability to identify, understand, and communicate his or her feelings.
You can assist in this process by experimenting with physical and verbal outlets for expressing feelings appropriately. Keep in mind his or her developmental skills and limitations.
Have you ever awakened from a dream in which you were trying to escape someone or something frightening and your feet would not carry you to safety?
Or, you were trying desperately to get help and found that you no longer had a voice? Attempting to reach a destination, but unable to find your way?
I would imagine that your relief has been as great as mine when, upon awakening, the realization has finally crept in that it was “only a dream.”
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with moodiness in young children? First, I would like to ask that you keep in mind the feelings produced by the dream experience: the frustration, helplessness, fear, and vulnerability.
We, as adults, can find relief in the discovery that these experiences were only dreams. But, for children, this experience is not just a dream but their day-to-day reality.
At no other time in one’s life are needs so great and skills so few as in early childhood. Beginning in infancy, a child is entirely helpless and dependent upon the instincts of caretakers.
We must guess, when a deaf infant cries, just what is the cry communicating. Is it hunger, a need to be held, or a diaper in need of changing? Parents often breathe a sigh of relief when, finally, language arrives and a child is able to begin using words to name basic needs.
THE LEARNING CURVE
Teaching a deaf child to manage moods and value feelings is to teach a child two of the most significant self-esteem builders.
After all, we all feel better about ourselves when we “behave” and are pleasant. Likewise, self-esteem grows when a child learns that feelings are to be respected and listened to, not shamed and dismissed.
Our nerve-endings, when they properly develop, are our best protectors against serious injury.
If we were to touch a hot stove, a quick message would be sent to our brain signaling pain and an equally quick response would cause us to remove our hand to prevent further injury.
In the same way, feelings become our best protectors against harm of other sorts. A child who learns to respect inner feelings and instincts, will know when a playground bully is out of line.
They’ll talk and complain to adults about being bullied, and ultimately, look for new playmates.
A child whose feelings have not been nurtured may dismiss uncomfortable feelings and endure uncomfortable circumstances.
Similarly, our feelings teach us about that which feels good and rewarding. They becomes a “barometer” to be relied upon, ever informing us of our needs, likes, dislikes, dangers, and pleasures.
The calibration of this fine tool begins in early childhood. It requires a delicate balance of empathy and limits, the willingness to “listen” to that which words cannot yet express; the creation of words, signing included, regarding the common language; and ultimately teaching a child to use words as well as actions to explain feelings.
Your child’s expressions may appear to be more graphic for a number of reasons: a) when signing, she probably will have stronger facial and bodily expressions: b) when learning to identify and express new feelings, the child might “overdo” it, and c) the child may feel an urgency to get her point across, especially if it is important to him or her.
Once he or she feels more capable of communicating effectively, the latter two factors will recede. However, pronounced expressiveness is the norm in the deaf community as well as for the deaf person who is not an active community member.
What’s important is to create a supportive family environment in which feelings and their appropriate expression are unconditionally accepted.
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