Is There a Connection Between Hearing Loss and a Fear of Failure?

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For three years now I have sat in on countless speech therapy sessions with Sonya. Implanted with cochlear devices at seven months, Sonya’s speech emerged, slowly at first, and then through bursts. Tracking her developmental leaps on this blog has been a fascinating endeavor and I hope other parents who have children like Sonya and who go the route of cochlear implants will get a glimpse of their child’s future through our experience.

While speech has emerged and while Sonya has a sweet, silly and bubbly personality at three years old, I have noticed that she remains very cautious when it comes to approaching new tasks. As we work with her speech therapists, Sonya will rarely participate in an activity until she feels she understands it. She seems afraid of trying something new and of being wrong.

According to Sonya’s speech team, this is not an uncommon trait among children with hearing loss. Given the sheer number of audiological tests, speech and listening evaluations and mappings (which require Sonya to respond when presented with noise),  kids with hearing loss often approach new tasks with trepidation. They are working so hard to please that it’s no wonder Sonya and kids like her are afraid to be wrong.

Of course, as a child with hearing loss, Sonya must learn how to cope with the prospect of failure. She will need to fail in order to grow. One of the hardest things as a parent I have observed is stepping back and letting Sonya experience failure. It started as early as her first steps (which I wrote about here).

I also recognize that given Sonya has hearing loss we have thin margins to work with in terms of both protecting Sonya and pushing Sonya to experiment and learn from her mistakes. But how does one teach the importance of failure?

According to a May 2016 Stanford study, the way children perceive “being smart” was related to how their parents reacted toward failure. The more parents believed that failure is debilitating, the more likely children became concerned with their grades rather than of learning and improvement.

Seeing Sonya’s development, I can’t help but recall my own fears as a child. As a kid, I was shy. So shy I remember being at a family function and being introduced as “the cousin who doesn’t talk.” For me, this fear of speaking was absolutely related to a fear of failure. If I didn’t talk, I wouldn’t say anything that would be wrong or potentially embarrassing.

Much to my parents’ surprise, I decided to study abroad in high school. I lived with a French family in a quaint little town of 4,000 people called Espalion, France. I suddenly was immersed in a language I hadn’t mastered and I was quite literally the town moron. I remember people laughing because I kept saying “je suis excitée” when I was excited about something (not realizing the verb “exciter” means sexually aroused in French). Yep. It was a great lesson in failure. And I survived it.

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A reunion with my French host family in 2016. I adore these wonderful people and am so glad they met Sonya!!

This experience brought me out of my shell in a way I never expected.

Now, I don’t think Sonya is shy at all. Perhaps it is the years of socializing through speech therapy, or perhaps it’s her temperament (she certainly takes after my mom and mother-in-law in terms of being social). But I do worry about how cautious she is. I hope we will be able to show her that she can learn from her inevitable struggles or setbacks. That failure can be viewed as growth — as long as she chooses to learns from it.

Oh by the way, here is Sonya in her halloween costume 🙂

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