Typical Emotional Stages of Parents

with Children Who are D/HH.


       Williams, D.M.L. and Darbyshire, J.O. (1982). Diagnosis of deafness: A study of family responses and needs. Volta Review, 84(1), 24-30.

        Sloman, Leon M.D., FRCP(C), Springer, Stephen PhD, C Psych and Vachon, Mary L.S., RN, Ph D (1993). Disordered communication and grieving in deaf member families. Family Process, 32(2), 171-182.

        Kampfe, Charlene M, Ph.D (1989). Parental reaction to a child’s hearing impairment. American Annals of the Deaf, 134 (4), 255-259

        Medwid, Daria J and Weston, Denise Chapman (1995). Kid friendly parenting with deaf or hard of hearing children. Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

        Watkins, Susan EdD and Clark, Thomas C PhD (1993). The SKI*HI model. Logan, Utah: SKI*HI Institute.

Synthesis of Information

Over 80% of parents who realize that their child is d/hh experience strong emotional reactions (Williams and Darbyshire, 1982). The grieving process occurs when the parents’ dream of having the perfect child is shaken. Anguish over the loss of the "idealized child" is a normal family process that is intensified when the child is identified as "different" (Sloman, Springer, and Vachon, 1993). The mourning process is not only normal, but it facilitates the transition from denial to reality (Kampfe, 1989). Each parent responds differently, and while they will experience all of the emotions, there is no predictable order (Medwid and Weston, 1995).

While families can reach the state of acceptance, which leads to constructive action, they will re-experience the emotions at various transitional points of development (Sloman et al). For example, when the child enters preschool the parent may see a difference in language development between his/her child and the other children making him/her feel guilty for not working "harder" with the child.

Possible Transition Periods of when Emotional Regression may occur (Medwid and Weston, 1995):

Preschool                 Family Functions                     Recreational Activities

Enrollment in new school                         Adolescence

                        Leaving for college                     Boyfriend/Girlfriend                     Marriage

                                            Increase in language                                 Graduation

The emotional process is a difficult time, but it can be made easier with knowledge about hearing loss. Professionals must carefully gauge the amount of information provided. Strong feelings can interfere with the parent’s perceptions of their child and understanding of information provided. In addition, too much information can overwhelm any parent. It is also important that parents realize that professionals do not have all the information. Parents are the experts on their child (Medwin et al). Professionals are the most helpful when they are supportive, non-judgmental and willing to listen to whatever the parent has to say. According to Stephens, "Being supportive does not mean taking over or taking away the hurt-it just means allowing the parent the freedom to be themselves with someone who cares" (Watkins and Clark, 1993).


Realizing that a child is d/hh is a very traumatic experience for most parents, because the grieving process that they go through is much like the grieving for death. The exception is that the stages and process are ongoing. Professionals need to be empathetic as families go through the stages. The ultimate goal is for families to accept that their child is d/hh so that they can positively assist their child. Families’ emotional needs must be addressed before they are able to make any concrete decisions regarding their child. As professionals, we have a tendency to rush parents in the decision making process so that the appropriate training can occur. We need to remember that the best decisions are ones that are carefully made. Allowing parents to deal with their emotions saves time down the road.


        Deaf Children’s Sociey of B.C.(1999), Is your child deaf or hard of hearing? [Online]. Available http://www.deafchildren.bc.ca/deafchil.htm

        Ogden, Paul W. (1996) The Silent Garden. Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

       McCracken, Wendy and Sutherland, Hilary (1991). Deaf –ability, not disability. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters LTD.

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