A cochlear implant can help your child to hear sounds, but to listen to them—that’s an important skill that’s worth developing. Listening skills develop in stages, and like any other skill, practice can make perfect.
This is where you come in: you can help your child to develop his or her listening skills. Your child is more likely to develop good listening skills through exposure to real-life and meaningful situations rather than repetitive drills, so here are some ways to engage your child throughout the day.
What Are “Listening Skills”?
For a child with a cochlear implant, there are three general steps on the path to developing “listening skills.”
In the early days of hearing with a cochlear implant, “listening skills” means recognizing that a sound has been made, drawing attention to this, and responding to it.
Then, “listening skills” develops into being able to differentiate between different sounds—hearing and recognizing that there is a difference between animal noises like moo for a cow and baa for a sheep.
This turns into listening to familiar words and understanding their rhythms or syllable patterns. Children use this information to help them sort out and learn new words.
From that point, it’s about building vocabulary with the ultimate goal of listening to conversational speech, phrases, and sentences.
For children with or without a cochlear implant developing these skills will take some time. So if you’ve got any questions about your child’s progress just ask his or her hearing professional.
Communication is a Two-Way Process
If you are a good listener, you can help your child to become a good speaker.
How you can be a good listener
If your child is trying to say something, always give him or her your attention.
If your child is trying to speak or make sounds, say “I can hear you,” nod your head in encouragement. Try to understand and try to respond to what he or she says saying.
Do not be afraid to guess—your child will let you know if you are wrong!
How to help your child be a good listener
Encourage a good listening position: be on same level as your child and make sure your child has the best access to the sound of your voice. If your child cannot sit up prop him or her up with cushions or in a chair, or hold him or her in your arms.
Try to get your child’s attention before you speak—using words and sound, like saying his or her name, to get your child’s listening attention is best. If your child doesn’t respond then try staying still or holding an interesting object near your face. Once your child looks toward you then start speaking; your child will recognize this as a reward for looking at you.
Put words to the routines of day-to-day life, like talking through the process of getting dressed or making a meal. Repeat, repeat, repeat in natural phrases and sentences! It’ll take lots of repetition to help your child understand the words and what they mean.
Give your child the words he or she needs by putting words to actions. For example if your child seems thirsty then say, “Do you want a drink? Let’s get your drink. Here’s your drink. It’s orange juice.” This will let your child to hear what you’re going to do before you do it, and then the meaning of the words you use will be reinforces once you do the action. Or if your child is taking off his or her shoes you might say “It’s stuck, your shoe’s stuck. Pull! Pull hard! Your shoe is coming off now. We got it off!”
And through all of this, make your meaning clear and be consistent. Use your face and body to back up what you say in a natural way. If you are saying “no” for something you do not like that your child is doing don’t laugh or smile when you talk to him about it. Instead, you could shake your head back and forth to reinforce that the word “no” goes with this action. When you’re happy, say how happy you are and then give your child a smile or hug.
Positively reinforce good listening by actively telling your child when you notice he or she is listening well, like “You heard me! That was great listening.”