Stress happens when you find yourself in a situation that you perceive to be more threatening or demanding than your personal resources can manage. When your child is diagnosed with hearing loss you find yourself placed in one of these situations immediately.
Every family has a different reaction to raising a child with hearing loss. Some appear to have little stress in adjusting to their child’s needs. They sail through the process and welcome new advice and support along the way. They easily adjust to changes in their child’s development and are eager to see what happens next.
Other families appear to become bogged down in stress every step of the way. They have difficulties working with service providers and professionals. They can’t seem to find anyone they trust. They never seem to find the support they need and are frustrated with the choices and decisions they must continually make.
Curious as to why not all families experience raising a child who is deaf/hard of hearing (DHH) as stressful, Plotkin, Brice, & Reesman (2013), investigated how parenting personality impacts raising a child who is DHH.
The study, entitled It Is Not Just Stress: Parent Personality in Raising a Deaf Child, used the “five-factor model of personality” to help categorize parental personalities.
These five factors are:
- Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)
- Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
- Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
- Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached)
- Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
Did you recognize yourself somewhere on the list?
Most people tend to lie somewhere in the middle of the two extremes for each factor. Behavior always involves an interaction between your underlying personality and the situation that you find yourself in (think of the way you behave at home vs. work), but there is often one factor that tends to dominate how a person thinks and responds.
I tend to be high on the agreeableness side and my husband is high on the conscientiousness side. For us that is a pretty good combination. But I do tend to be too chill about things, and could probably use a little kick of neuroticism from time to time. And my husband can be too efficient and organized and could use a little more flexibility in day to day moments.
So, this is all interesting you say, but what does this have to do with raising a child who is DHH? Some of the findings from the study were:
- Parents raising children who are DHH, who themselves are less extraverted and open to experiences, may be less likely to find support groups or activities that require socialization outside of the home useful at reducing their stress. A parent’s extraversion and being socially inclined can serve as a protective factor in that parents are better able to find the support they need and are also able to find social outlets to help deal with stress.
- Parents high in openness are more willing to try new coping strategies and view “deaf-specific activities” (such as, hearing aid and cochlear implant understanding, being child’s teacher of language, education challenges, and audiological care) as less stressful (Costa, Somerfield, & McCrae, 1996).
- Greater agreeableness was associated with lower levels of stress concerning child’s education, being the child’s language teacher, and audiological care.
- Neuroticism was only associated with one deaf-specific factor (stress about having to be their child’s teacher of language) but greater levels of stress were found in everyday activities, including daily routines, finances, and marriage. So, parents who are highly sensitive or nervous need help dealing with stress in many facets of their life, not only their child’s hearing loss.
- Interestingly, no significant associations were found between conscientiousness and parenting stress. I would think that being organized and efficient would go towards reducing parental stress. You are that parent who has all the documents organized before the IEP meeting, you know exactly who to contact when there is an equipment malfunction. All that kind of being-prepared stuff that goes towards reducing stress when something comes up.
Studies like this can help bring self-awareness to what we do as parents. It’s a difficult thing to find the time to reflect and reassess our own behaviors when we in the midst of raising a child who is DHH. But, if we are able to take the time to truly think about how we react, we are in a better position to figure out what kind of support we need as parents.
And remember, you can step outside your personality comfort zone – it will just take a little more determination and thought than following your natural instincts!
“All of us are different people in different situations, or with varied groups, or from time to time, and at various stages of our lives,” writes Dr. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence. “The old personality model, that we have fixed traits that stay with us throughout our lives, doesn’t do justice to how flexible our behavior can be (Goleman, 2013).”
It’s also important that service providers and other professionals are aware of the impact that parental personality has on stress levels and how they can help to guide parents to find the support they need. Treating all parents the same and handing them the same bundle of informational pamphlets and websites doesn’t do service to what that family might need.
If anyone has any tips or ideas on how they deal with parental stress or how they move out of their personality comfort zones, I would love to hear about it!