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Through play, therapists can help children learn more adaptive behaviour in situations where the child presents emotional, or social deficits.

Kindergarten like home

When a child turns three years old, parents have to consider whether to send them to kindergarten. For carers of a hearing impaired toddler, making this decision is extremely difficult. Mothers and fathers ask themselves many questions: what will be best for their daughter or son, how to make it easier for him or her to part with his or her mother, and finally, what can be done to ensure that the child adapts in the new place? Nina Ambroziak, psychologist, sensory integration therapist and Play Therapy therapist, talks about what emotions a hearing-impaired pre-school child may experience and what mistakes parents should avoid.


Hearing loss hinders a child's emotional development. This is a result of the fact that parents, often shocked by the diagnosis, do not know how to talk to their child and do not try to make non-verbal contact with them either. Silence falls on the home, and under such conditions ? as we wrote about in detail in the previous issue of I Hear? ? there is no chance for the child to experience varied emotions. This is why kindergartens often propose that hearing-impaired toddlers go to the kindergarten a little later, at the age of 4?5, to a younger group. However, it is up to the mother or someone else who knows the child very well to decide if and when the child should go to kindergarten and which age group. A kindergarten psychologist, for example at the kindergarten you want to send your child to, can also help. It should be taken into account that a child with hearing impairment may have more problems than his or her peers adapting in kindergarten. This is not only because they are less emotionally mature. In particular, a child of overprotective parents may find it difficult to adapt to a new environment. Such carers do not allow him or her to be independent and experience the world in an authentic way. Therefore, the toddler may have problems separating from his mother and therefore ? also with the process of his own individualisation. If left in the nursery, he cries and does not want to make contact with his peers. In this situation, the mother, who also finds it difficult to part with her disabled son or daughter, returns to take her child home. She is convinced that the hearing impaired child will not be able to cope in an alien environment. She has good intentions, but in making them dependent, she forgets that the child should be given the right to create a separate identity. Therefore, instead of keeping him or her "under a blanket", it is better to try to keep him or her in a kindergarten, where he or she will have contact with peers and a chance to be independent. To ensure that this attempt does not end in failure, parents should carefully prepare both themselves and their child for it.


Trip to the kindergarten

In order to tame both yourself and your child with the thought of kindergarten, you need to talk! It is best to start the conversation with the child by saying that he is already three years old, so he is big and can go to a kindergarten where there are other children. If the parent communicates this to the child, the child himself will also become convinced that he is mature enough to be let out from under his own wings and put in the care of strangers. It is a good idea to buy story books about the nursery (there are many in bookshops). It is by looking at and reading such books that the child can become accustomed to the rules there and become interested in the new place. It is best, however, to show a deaf child the kindergarten they will be attending. You don't even have to go inside ? it's enough to show your child what the building or the playground looks like from September onwards. But before you do, you need to choose a kindergarten. How do you do this? Pre-schools often organise so-called open days. It is a good idea to take advantage of this offer to get to know the rules and the teachers. Some kindergartens even offer so-called 'adaptation days', where the kindergarten is open to parents and their children for a few hours a day. During this time, the teachers conduct trial classes for the children. During these classes it can be observed whether there is a spark between the future educator and the child, or whether the teacher seems cold, dry and strict. It is worth paying attention to the way the teacher communicates with the children: does the teacher speak calmly and clearly to the children, or does he/she give instructions with his/her back turned to the children, does he/she get the attention of a group of children, or does he/she say what he/she has to say without caring about the quality of the children's reception of the message. The parents' attitude towards the teacher is also very important. It is advisable for them to establish a good rapport with the future educator even before the child goes to kindergarten. If a thread of understanding develops between them, it is likely that the child will also feel comfortable under the care of this teacher. If, on the other hand, mum and dad have mixed feelings about the teacher or the kindergarten, this means that they should look for another kindergarten where they themselves feel comfortable. Parents are not always able to verbalise what is bothering them. Sometimes, however, it is not worth delving into finding out why they feel this way. It is better to rely on parental intuition. It means more than opinions in forums, often extremely positive (written by the kindergarten teachers themselves) or extremely negative (posted by dissatisfied parents who, for example, have a conflict with the kindergarten). A parent's honest answer to the question: would I myself like to go to such a kindergarten can help him or her to choose the right kindergarten for their child.

How to facilitate adaptation?

It should be borne in mind that the adaptation of a hearing-impaired child in kindergarten may take longer than for a hearing child. Sometimes it can even take several months. Therefore, when choosing a kindergarten, it is worth paying attention to whether the kindergarten is flexible enough to allow parents to attend the first classes with their child. The parent then stays in the kindergarten, but gradually withdraws, increasing the distance between himself and the toddler. She consciously redirects his attention to the teacher, showing him that you are a know-it-all who can be trusted. However, not all parents have the option of prolonging the adaptation period in the nursery. They simply have to go back to work. In this situation, they should especially control their behaviour at the time of separation. When saying goodbye to their child in the morning, they need to remain as calm as possible. Trembling hands, a tear in the eye, reddening of the face, a trembling, uncertain or quiet voice ? all these signs of nervousness or uncertainty are clear signals to the little one that it is not safe in the new place and that he or she should not stay there. If, after a few weeks of the toddler coming to the kindergarten, the parent still has doubts about how the child will cope, whether the kindergarten teacher will understand the child's needs and take good care of the child, this means that the parent is not ready for such a separation. It is therefore clear that the separation process will be difficult. In the case of very difficult separations, the educator can help. To reassure the parent, he or she can, for example, promise to call half an hour after the parent has left to let the parent know how the child is behaving. The parent will then feel that the situation is under control ? the child has been left alone, but has not been left alone, ?thrown into a group?, and is in the care of the right person. This situation may repeat itself for a few days, but over time the mother or father will come to trust the educator. He or she will finally believe that a disabled child can also manage without him or her.

After separation from my mother

Concerned parents often wonder if and how they can help their child to survive in an unfamiliar environment after separation from their parents. In the case of hearing-impaired children, the same way works, which is probably used by all parents of toddlers who have problems adapting in kindergarten ? leave the toddler something that he associates with home and mum. The pre-school child does not yet have a formed mental representation of the parent in his or her head. The moment mum disappears from his field of vision, she ceases to exist, as it were, for him. It is then helpful to leave the child a picture of mum. At the day-care centre, he or she will be able to look at her in a moment of longing, even say something to her. In addition to the photo, the child can take along an object that has some of his or her mother's characteristics, such as a blanket or a soft toy. When the mother is physically absent, such an object helps the child to survive the difficult time without her and to acclimatise to the new place and people. The adaptation of the hearing impaired child in the kindergarten is greatly facilitated by movement and games in which the child can express his or her emotions. With three-year-olds, these emotions can be very strong. The children try to express them in different ways, e.g. by varying their tone of voice. For deaf children it is more difficult ? their means of expression are very limited. Therefore, they either express their emotions in a different way than their peers, or they suppress them, which can contribute to developmental disorders. For this reason, both parents and kindergarten teachers should pay close attention to the behaviour of children with hearing loss and help them ? to express anger, grief, disappointment, longing, dissatisfaction, joy or other feelings. Both the teacher and the parents should give the child the right to express emotions, especially negative ones, which naturally accompany the adaptation process in the kindergarten. For it is worth remembering that a toddler's morning crying when parting from his mother is an expression of the loss of a relationship that is important to him, and not an expression of the child's ill will. If the morning crying only accompanies separation from the mother, then a good solution is for the child to be taken to the nursery by another person with whom the child is less connected. The sense of loss will be less, so the child's crying may also be reduced or not occur at all.

New colleagues in kindergarten

When sending a hearing impaired child to kindergarten, parents are concerned about whether the other children will accept his or her difference and whether the child with a disability will be able to establish good relationships with his or her hearing peers. What most mothers and fathers do not realise, however, is that the interactions between children depend to a large extent on how they themselves approach their son or daughter's disability. If the parents consider the diagnosis to be the greatest harm that has ever happened to them and try not to feel it, they will try to make the child 'blend in' with the group and make his or her 'otherness' unnoticeable. In this way, they create an unnatural situation in which the child has to, as it were, pretend to be someone accepted by the parents, and cannot be himself. And this only makes it more difficult for him to relate to his peers. If, on the other hand, the parents have adopted an accepting attitude, there is a high probability that the child with hearing loss will acclimatise well with normal-hearing children. He or she will function among them as he or she wishes and according to his or her potential. The parents' attitude towards their child's deafness is best seen during playtime. If the parents do not accept their son or daughter's disability, they do not play with the child or their play is purely educational. Going to kindergarten, the toddler therefore does not have the basic skill of self-expression, which is play, mastered. It is highly likely that in the kindergarten group he will also not join in play with other children and will not try to relate to them in this way. On the other hand, a child who has spent the first two to three years at home with a carer (mum, dad, grandma or grandpa), who is genuinely interested in him and spends a lot of time playing together, is in a completely different situation. Such a toddler has formed a higher self-esteem, knows what being with another person is all about, playing with someone else. There is therefore a good chance of gaining playmates in the kindergarten, which is a way of communicating and exchanging with others. With the right support from the kindergarten teacher, the deaf child's adaptation in the group can go smoothly and effectively. After all, it is her behaviour that serves as a role model for the group. Children are able to accept their peers unconditionally (no matter whether they are deaf or otherwise handicapped). However, the teacher gives them a signal as to how a deaf boy, for example, should be treated. If the caregiver in the kindergarten does not emphasise his difference in a way that stigmatises the child, refers to him kindly, other children start to replicate this behaviour. Unfortunately, not all caregivers understand this. I remember an inclusive kindergarten in Warsaw. There I tried to check the relationship of two hearing-impaired children with the rest of the pupils. As it turned out, there were no such relationships at all. Hearing children played at one end of the room, deaf children at the other. The teachers did not even try to encourage the group to understand the situation and feelings of the deaf children. And this is not difficult after all. Just ask the children to cover their ears and read them a story. Then ask them a few follow-up questions. As the children will certainly not know the answers, explain to them that their hearing-impaired friends often hear just as well as they do with their ears covered. And that you should make it easier for them to hear, e.g. by speaking in such a way that they can see the speaker's face, their mouth.

Preschool failures

It is important that parents do not hinder their child's adaptation to the kindergarten through their excessive fears, but also do not lose their vigilance and watch their child carefully. What might worry them? Behaviour indicating a regression of those skills that are least developed ? the child starts wetting himself, talks less, has night terrors, does not want to leave the house, especially the nursery school. The child may also change his/her previous ways of activity, e.g. he/she used to paint pictures, but has stopped doing so. Similar observations are a signal that the new situation has overwhelmed the child, that the child cannot be himself in the kindergarten. Often parents do not want to notice these changes, they say that everything is fine. Meanwhile, the child should be given the chance to express bad emotions in any form. If, for example, he was painting and stopped, you should go with him to the shop and buy new crayons or paints, sit by the child and watch him draw. But that is not all. If you suspect that the cause of the changes you have observed is a problem in the nursery, e.g. treating the child without proper understanding, exclusion from the group, etc., you should go to the teacher, share your concerns and ask for an explanation or observation of the worrying behaviour and identify the circumstances in which it occurs. And if this does not help, you can always approach the head teacher. For difficulties that cannot be explained by adaptive changes, it is worth asking a child psychologist for observation. Sometimes it is even helpful to have a one-time consultation between parents and a psychologist, who will help to understand the child's difficulties in the adaptation process, suggest activities to improve the child's psychological comfort in the kindergarten. One thing should not be done rashly ? to transfer the child to another kindergarten. Instead of looking for a new, better kindergarten, it is better to give your child a break from kindergarten education. This is to reduce the stress of the first attempt. After some time, when we observe that the toddler is in good shape, we can give him a new chance ? return to kindergarten for a shorter period of time, which will be gradually extended, or eventually place him in another kindergarten, preferably one that is more friendly to children with disabilities.

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