But First…Empathy.

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    I want to invite you on a short journey.  Our journey won’t take you far geographically, but it will require you to change places in time and space. 

    It may help you settle in better if you close your eyes and get comfortable. Feel free to take off your shoes, to snuggle into a chair or sway on a swing, to sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor.

    Right here, right now

    Once you’re cozy, take a deep breath. Pay attention to your emotions as they rise.

    Can you name a few things you are feeling in this moment? Give yourself freedom to be honest in this naming. 

    You are allowed to feel exactly what you are feeling, whether you are relaxed or anxious, excited or disappointed, grateful or grieving.  You are allowed to feel as many or as few of these feelings as you feel.  Your feelings don’t have to make sense, and you can feel two–or 17–conflicting emotions at once. No need to explain or judge yourself.  

    You are allowed to be you: exactly where you are, just as you are.  You are allowed to be human. You deserve kindness.

    Little YOU

    Once you’re fully settled into your now-self, let’s go back in time a bit.  Picture an event you remember from when you were little, from a time when you were as little as you can remember being.  

    Call up the details, as many as you can. Use your senses as you think about the place you were, the people who were around you, the sights and sounds and smells you experienced in this memory. 

    Can you go back to that moment in time that is still stored within your memory these many years later?  Can you feel this memory in your body? Where do you feel it most? What does it feel like?

    Ask your child-self what she is feeling in this memory.  Invite him to tell you.  Remind your child-self she is allowed to be exactly where she is, just as she is.  He is allowed to be human: to know what he knows, to not know what he doesn’t know.  

    All of your child-self is invited to show up in your memory.  Little you is full of so much goodness.  Little you is a source of delight. Your child-self also deserves kindness, and perhaps a cuddly embrace.

    Your little one

    Now let’s make our final stop.  Let’s take that ability to see your child-self, and use it a bit differently. 

    It’s time for you, as your child’s most important nurturer and teacher, to envision actually putting on your child’s shoes–or socks or booties or footie jammies!–and standing in them.  Be present in that teensy footwear.  

    • What do you see from this vantage point?  
    • What does it feel like to have the world so new, so exciting, so big and overwhelming? 
    • What are your (in-your-child’s-shoes) senses taking in?  What might your child see…hear…taste…touch…smell each day? 
    • How does it feel to depend on the adults in your life to meet all your needs? 
    • What is it like to have so little control over your body and emotions? 
    • What do you feel within yourself when you have made a magical discovery, perhaps in your kitchen or at the local park? What do you want to do in this exciting moment?
    • What rises up in you when you want something so badly you could (and just might!) explode? 
    • What do you feel inside when someone is asking you to do something you simply don’t want to do?  
    • What about when you feel afraid, but you don’t know how to express your fears?  Or you feel confused, but have no idea why or how to tell someone?  
    • What if you’re exhausted, but you want to keep playing and your body simply cannot curl up and go to sleep?
    • How do you feel when you get hungry, but you don’t know how or where to get a snack?

    Stay in your child’s perspective a bit.  Feel these emotions for a few moments. Let them sink into your heart.  Allow your brain and body to spend some time in those little shoes, and see how your view of your little person changes.  

    Now ask yourself these important questions as you continue to stand in those teensy shoes: 

    How would you want someone to respond to you right here, right now, in this happy place?

    This hard-to-feel place? This hungry place? This excited place? This confused place? This frustrating place? This tired place?

    Beginning with empathy

    Empathy is “standing in someone else’s shoes.”  

    It’s about…

    • Attuning–observing, listening, noticing the facial expressions, body posturing, signs, and words of another. 
    • Trying your best to understand the why that might be causing the other person’s feelings and behaviors. 
    • Receiving another person–no matter that person’s age–just as they are.  

    Empathy allows us as nurturers of little ones to enter into our child’s experience from a place of willingness to understand.

    From there, we can dig a bit deeper until we are clearer on the emotions this small child is feeling. We can consider what is happening within and around that little person. We can begin to figure out what might be motivating him to behave in certain ways.  

    When we have this information, we can come alongside and offer our young child just the right amount of support to handle her BIG feelings in healthy ways: 

    • the signs or words to name the feeling
    • appropriate options for expressing strong emotions
    • healthier ways of getting wants and needs met

    Building a foundation of empathy with your deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) child

    No matter our age or our stage in life, we all have deep, built-in needs to feel safe and understood.  The two go hand-in-hand, truly.  Young children, because they are fully dependent upon adults to meet their every need, and because their brains are working so hard to make sense of the complex world around them, feel this drive for a sense of safety and being understood even more acutely.  

    Little people are deeply vulnerable, and they need extra kindness and gentleness.  Kindness and gentleness are best achieved when we respond to them from a place of standing in their shoes.

    Here’s where it can get tricky.

    Chances are quite high that you have never met a person with a hearing difference until your DHH child was born.  You are likely carrying endless questions, very real grief, and a sense of inadequacy in being able to meet your DHH child’s needs. 

    You may be wondering if…

    • you can truly understand your DHH little one’s perspective of the world since you don’t have personal experience with a hearing difference.
    • you will be able to overcome the communication struggles you and your child may be facing.
    • you can keep up with all the extra appointments, technology maintenance, therapy “homework,” and your other children’s needs, and still have anything left.
    • you can discern what is “Toddler Stuff” and what is “My Child Has a Hearing Difference Stuff.”
    • you are capable of making the best decisions for your young DHH child.
    • you will ever really know what the healthiest responses to your child should look like. 
    • your little one will find his place in the world, and if you have what it takes to guide him.

    The simple answer to all of these questions is YES! 

    You are capable of learning, growing, and loving your child in all the ways that matter most.  You have what it takes to be what your child needs.  You are not called to know everything right away. You are not expected to meet your child’s every need at all times.  An abundance of information, professional support, and connections with other families is out there waiting for you.  You can take one step at a time, picking up “candles” to light the way as you go.

    Today, you have an invitation to simply breathe…to be…to allow yourself to experience the world as your DHH child experiences it. 

    You have an invitation to start with empathy, both for yourself and for your little one.


    For your consideration:

    Think of a time when you’ve been fully able to stand in your child’s shoes and show empathy. What did this look and feel like for you?

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    About The Author

    Lacey Wood

    Lacey Wood has a background in Early Intervention serving deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) infants, toddlers, and their families. Her current role allows her opportunities to support Early Intervention professionals as they serve this unique population of children and families. Lacey has a passion for guiding all types of families as they nurture their earliest relationship with their young DHH child. She knows families are motivated by deep love. They need sensitive, supportive information and resources as they build a lifelong foundation for a whole, healthy, resilient child. She holds compassionate space for where families and children are, and seeks to shine light into their journeys.
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