My Child Experiences Bullying at School Because of Her Hearing Aids
Updated: Jan 6
Despite the fact that 15% of school-aged children have hearing loss (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association), the bullying of students with hearing aids is still an issue in schools. A well-rounded approach taken by students with hearing aids, parents, school employees and other students that starts early is the best way to combat this unfortunate truth. By understanding the signs of bullying, educating about hearing impairments and hearing aids, having appropriate people intervene and empowering students with hearing aids to be self-advocates, everyone can have a better experience at school.
Children of all ages can experience hearing loss. While some are born with a hearing impairment or deafness others lose hearing later. No matter the genesis or age, it’s not uncommon for students with hearing aids to experience bullying at school. Students with hearing loss are more likely to be bullied than their hearing peers. Very few will simply come out and say it. Kids are embarrassed, want to be independent and don’t want to “snitch” so how can you tell if your child is being bullied? Know how to recognize the signs and make sure that your child’s teachers and other school staff know the signs.
Signs of Bullying
According to Stomp Out Bullying, the signs of bullying include:
physical signs: torn or missing clothing or other belongings; unexplained cuts, bruises or scratches.
behavioral signs: marked increase in sadness, acting out, moodiness, alertness, frequency of asking to stay home; changes in eating and sleeping; changes in appearance.
social signs: few or no friends and social plans; fear of riding the bus/carpool/walking to school, taking a longer route home; no interest in getting involved in school activities
academic signs: plummeting grades, loss of interest in schoolwork and activities.
Knowing what to look for is the easiest way to recognize bullying, especially by those not at school with the child.
If you notice that your child is exhibiting these symptoms, broach the topic privately and generally. Coming out and asking a child, “Are you being bullied?” is likely not be answered with “yes.” Instead, talk about a book you read or television show you watched where a child was bullied and ask if your student has ever witnessed this at school. They may not want to talk about it at first but planting the idea that you are a safe ally will build trust and pave the way for the child to come forward.
Knowledge is Power
Depending on the age of the student with hearing aids, one way to combat bullying is through education. Allow the student to decide if they wish to explain to classmates that they have a hearing impairment and wear hearing aids. Some students, especially those who have worn hearing aids their whole life, have no problem educating classmates. Bullies see this as powerful and are less likely to target the child with hearing aids. A student new to hearing aids, younger students or students in a new school may be less comfortable drawing attention to their hearing aids. Let the student control the dialog.
Before the school year or semester—any time the child will be around new peers—ask them how they are feeling. Do not pressure children to speak about their hearing aids. Instead, have talking points ready. Guide them if they do say they want to explain their hearing loss or hearing aids to the class.
Allow your child to find the talking point or points that works for her comfort level. They don’t need to say everything. Some things kids might enjoy talking about to break the ice and stave off potential bullying are:
Talking about their hearing loss. Has the child always had hearing loss or was it an illness or injury that caused it?
Showing their hearing aid. Some children might enjoy showing how they put in and take out their hearing aid, showing the battery.
Telling a funny story. Kids are often humorous about their own hearing aids and hearing loss and may wish to make classmates more comfortable by sharing a funny anecdote about life with hearing aids and hearing loss.
There Are Allies Everywhere
Your child is their own best advocate. Confidence in themselves is the best way to stop a bully in their tracks. But there are also allies all around them. Think about the people who know your child best and understand their hearing loss and who your child is comfortable with. Do they have a teacher they are particularly close to who can intervene? Is there a classmate or student leader who other students listen to?
Finally, having multiple strategies is also helpful. Kids of different ages handle things differently and each child’s approach to their hearing aids is different. Here are just a few strategies for your child and her allies.
Make friends with bullies. Depending on the situation, sometimes all it takes is some one-on-one time (or small group time) to stop bullying. Once the bully works with your child and sees them as an equal they will have less reason to target your child.
Be assertive. It is okay for children, especially those with hearing aids, to say “no” and “stop” to bullies and teaching them this is important. They do not have to smile and take it. Instead, they can simply tell the other child to cut it out and walk away. They should also let a trusted ally know they have done this so someone can intervene if necessary but often a bully just needs to be put in their place by their target to back off.
Teach resilience. Kids bully. That’s a hard lesson but it’s one your child should learn. They should also learn that they aren’t around that person most of the day and things are good. Sometimes they might have to deal with a harsh word but learning to walk away and shake it off is one of the most valuable lessons they can learn. This will also teach them to seek out healthy friendships and to value themselves enough to not put up with a bully any longer than necessary.
If your child experiences bullying, talk about it when they are not upset and discuss the strategies they think will work. At the end of the day, no matter the age of your child, you can give them the tools needed to stop bullying at school.