The following suggestions may be helpful for parents of preschool children with repeated middle ear problems.
Children with normal hearing spend their first 12 to 18 months learning to listen before they begin to talk. With repeated ear infections and a mild hearing loss, much of this important listening time can be lost. Helping your child develop good listening skills is an essential first step in learning to talk.
Children who have a history of repeated middle ear problems often have a fluctuating hearing loss. If your child's hearing seems to change, take them to the doctor as soon as possible for treatment. Since audiologists can evaluate the hearing of children even in preschool years, your doctor may refer you for hearing tests. In many cases, there is no indication of pain or a temperature, even when there is fluid behind one or both eardrums.
Alert your child by calling their name before you begin to talk. Children tend to stop, turn, look and listen when they hear their name. Children often do not respond if you talk to them while they are busy playing or looking at something interesting.
Even with a mild hearing loss, it is hard to listen at a distance. Make certain that you are in the same room and no more than 5-6’ away from your child when you talk. At this distance, you give the child the opportunity to both look and listen. The closer you are, the louder your voice is.
Don't try to force your child to say words clearly. You will frustrate yourself and your child. Work on becoming a good speech model for your child to imitate. For example, if your child points to an empty glass and vocalizes, you might say: "You want milk," "I'm getting the milk," or "Here is the milk." This simple approach helps your child build better listening skills and expands their vocabulary. Make certain your child is looking and listening as you talk to them.
When your child tries to talk, learn to praise the effort. Do not criticize or act irritated. Children are typically anxious to please and would talk clearly if they could. Do not assume the child is being stubborn, naughty or lazy if their speech is limited or not clear.
Once your child is using single words or short phrases, help them use sentences. For example, if they point and say "Car," you should expand what they say by adding a few words such as "I want the car" or "Here is the car." Be a good speech model.
Turn off the radio or TV when talking with your child. Most find it more difficult to listen carefully when there is a lot of noise around.
As part of each day, try to set aside time for you and your child. Let your child choose a game, toy or book. During this time, talk about your activities but keep your conversation at the child's level. Gradually introduce new ideas and words.