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The Second Best Thing My Parents Gave Me

“If I had my child to raise all over again, I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later. I’d finger-paint more and point the finger less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I’d take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes. I’d take more hikes and fly more kites. I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I’d do more hugging and less tugging.” -Speaker and author Diana Loomans

The second best thing my parents ever gave me (after the gift of life) is a happy and wonderful childhood. I was surrounded with positivity, encouragement and love which formed the solid foundation for my future to build on. This solid foundation of a happy childhood is essential because it nurtures many valuable traits needed to be a successful deaf person in a hearing world such as independence, the ability to advocate for oneself and the freedom to develop one’s own identity. I often find myself relating the concept of childhood to a garden. The parents need to prepare healthy soil so they can plant seeds of independence, self-advocacy and a strong identity. However, these seeds will not grow unless they are surrounded by healthy and nutritious soil after which a successful childhood looks like a beautiful, colorful and flourishing garden. I believe one way my parents created a happy childhood for me and my sister was by balancing protection with independence, and guidance with positivity.

Freedom to Develop Independence and Identity. 
Although it is crucial to watch and closely monitor a deaf child’s progress, this should be balanced with giving him/her the space and freedom to develop their sense of independence. Independence, along with the ability to advocate for oneself is one of the most valuable traits a deaf child can learn. I can recall my mother practicing this balance as early as first grade when she dropped me off at my classroom on my first day of school and stood in the doorway while she watched me introduce myself to the class and describe my deafness. Furthermore, I explained common misunderstandings and scenarios (such as “If you call my name and I do not respond, please know I am not ignoring you, I really cannot hear”). I also continued to describe what I needed other classmates to do for me (“Please face me when you are speaking” and “Please speak louder in noisy environments”). Fortunately, I felt confident and prepared since my mother and I had rehearsed this at home many times in a fun and productive manner that encouraged my sense of independence. This way, my mother was already developing my independence by encouraging me to act for myself. Yet, she was standing at the doorway watching me, in case I became scared, lost or needed her support. Something I also did not discover until several years later was the fact that she had been meeting all my new teachers several weeks before classes began to wholeheartedly ensure they were well-informed, capable and prepared to give me the best academic experience possible. This is one crucial example that describes how she effectively balanced independence with protection and support.

Positive Affirmations are Your Child’s Motivations
When I was old enough to understand the concepts in my parent’s teaching methods, I wrote in my diary that when my family gives me words of genuine positivity and affirmation, it was “like a light switch or an extra boost of gas. Genuine and healthy praise given at the right moment in my life helped excel this fundamental belief in myself which opened me to a world of endless possibilities.” One of my strongest memories of encouragement came not from my parents, but from a high school soccer coach. All my life, I had played defense in soccer, guarding the goal from the opposing team. However, one day at a competitive game in a tournament, my coach pulled me aside and whispered, “I want you to play forward” for what appeared to be no major reason. I looked around to see that there were plenty of forward players still available, several who were excellent, yet he was asking me, a girl who had never played forward in her life to take the important position during the game’s last final minutes. When I voiced all this and asked “Why?” while still showing I was eager to take on the role, he patted me on my back and answered, “because I’m sure you’ll score.” It had never occurred to me to think that I would good at forward, let alone capable of scoring. Yet, with his positive words of affirmation, this coach opened my mind to more possibilities in that game, allowing me to realize there’s no reason I should not be capable of playing forward just because I had always been a defense player. Alvin Price, an author on several books about raising children, believes “parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world cannot poke enough holes to drain it dry” which I would argue is crucial not only for deaf kids, but for everyone in general. Although this quote can be interpreted in a number of ways, I choose to view it as giving children enough humble self-esteem so no major obstacle would discourage them completely. 

One of the most challenging areas in effective communication is giving critique in an effective and encouraging manner. I believe my mother, who was raised in Western culture, was better at this skill than my father because she spoke to me in the positive, instead of the negative. For example, I naturally talk in a high voice, particularly when I am excited or nervous. In this case, my parents had completely different methods of parenting for this, which also had different levels of effectiveness. To portray why talking in a high voice was unpleasant, my father would imitate my voice in a heavily exaggerated manner. Since I viewed his imitation of me negatively, I tended to ignore him. However, my mother took on a more positive approach. She calmly complimented how my voice sounded when I did not talk with a high pitch. For example, she would note how another mother mentioned to her that “Alana has such a calm, unique and beautiful voice almost like a rare British accent!” Positive comments such as these made me want to focus on speaking in a low and clear manner. Furthermore, there was not a single person I met who never complimented my mother’s linguistic abilities. I noticed she always spoke in a calm, soothing and extremely respectful manner to everyone she met. I have never heard my mother raise her voice, yet she was one of the most effective communicators I knew. As one author, Carolyn Coats, puts it, “Children have more need of models than critics.” Watching my mother carry and communicate herself so elegantly and warmly had a large effect on my communication with others. 

Author Robert Fulghum advised, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” I would extend this to not only your children, but all children are watching you, directly or indirectly. Fortunately, I had the luxury of sleeping over at friends’ homes while growing up. This opened my eyes to other parenting methods which I was able to compare to my own, particularly those in Chinese culture. When comparing the parenting I received with what several of my peers received, I noticed there was more finger pointing, yelling and harsh control in my friends’ households then my own. I noticed this put more weight on my friends’ shoulders and more strain on their relationship with their parents. This unfortunately resulted in lower self-esteem and unhappiness and more frustration for several of my classmates.

If there was any last message I could leave parents with it would be this: Do not focus on trying to create a perfect child, but rather work on creating the best relationship possible with that child. Children (and adults) often imitate those they admire, idolize and respect. Having my mother as my best friend and positive role model had a more powerful effect on me than any parenting lecture could have.