Hearing is important for the development of spoken language and for learning through spoken language. Children don’t often know if they are having difficulty hearing, and it is not always possible to tell if your child can hear all sounds just by watching what they do. The only way to know if your child has a permanent hearing loss is by having their hearing tested.
Here are some ideas for how to protect your child’s hearing and ear health and help your child develop hearing skills.
Stimulate Your Child's Hearing Development
You can help your baby’s hearing develop by exposing them to different sounds and spoken language – even before they are born.
Strategies During Pregnancy
Talk, read and sing to your growing baby – babies can hear sounds outside the womb, including voices, starting around the 27 to 29th week of pregnancy.
Hum or sing a familiar song to your baby. When baby is born, these songs will bring them comfort.
Encourage close family and friends to talk to the baby so their voices become familiar.
Strategies for Infants, Babies and Toddlers
Sit face to face with your baby to sing songs, share stories and recite nursery rhymes.
Vary the pitch (tone high/low) of your voice when you talk and sing to your baby.
Offer your child many different sounds during play, routines and in the environment. Examples: infant toys that jingle or rattle, clapping your hands, playing music.
Play outside with your baby to hear different sounds in the community and nature.
Take your toddler on a search for sounds around your home and neighbourhood.
Draw Your Child's Attention to Sounds in the Environment
Help your child notice and identify sounds in your home and in the environment. Talk about different sounds you hear and what made the sounds.
When you hear something, point to your ear and say what made the sound. Example: “Listen! I hear an airplane.”
Notice what sounds your baby reacts to and talk about them. Example: if your child turns to look at the door after hearing a knock, you can point to your ear and say, “I heard a knock, too!”
Describe sounds that you hear. Talk about the loudness and pitch of those sounds. Example: “That truck is LOUD!” “The bird is making a high tweet-tweet sound.”
Label or copy different sounds as they are happening. Example: “The leaves are crunching – crunch, crunch, crunch.”
Prevent Ear Injuries & Protect Hearing
We need healthy ears and a healthy brain to hear and interpret sounds. Protect your child’s ears and brain from injury or infections that could cause hearing loss.
During pregnancy, take steps to stay healthy to avoid infections and help your baby grow and develop.
Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, which can increase risk of hearing loss.
Do not put anything into your child’s ear canal, including cotton swabs.
Clean only the outside parts of the ear you can see with a clean, damp washcloth.
Ear wax is helpful to protect against infections – do not remove ear wax from your child’s ear. If you think your child has too much ear wax, contact a health care professional for help and advice.
If you think your child has an ear infection, get help from a health care professional.
Loud sounds and prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause permanent hearing loss. If you have to raise your voice to talk to someone close by, then it is likely loud enough to harm your child’s hearing (and yours too). These strategies can help reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
Check the Sound Level of Kids Toys
Some toys make very loud sounds and even though the sound may only be for a short time, repeated exposure to this loud sound can hurt your child’s hearing.
Set electronic toys to their lowest volume. For very noisy toys, consider putting tape over the speaker to lower the volume or remove the batteries so that there is no sound at all.
Encourage your child to sit further back from noisy toys and hold noisy toys away from their ears.
If you use a white noise, “shushing” or lullaby machine when your child is sleeping, keep the volume low and move the machine at least 2 feet away from your baby’s crib.
Set Television and Media Devices to a Safe Volume
Keep the sound level of the television, music, phone and any devices at a safe level. You should be able to talk to someone a few feet away without raising your voice louder.
Make sure the volume of media played through headphones and ear buds is set to a safe level.
If your child complains about a noise, cries or covers their ears, then it’s time to move away from the sound or put on hearing protection.
Wear Hearing Protection
Use noise cancelling head phones for your baby or young child if you are unable to lower the volume or move away from a loud sound. Example: sporting arena, movie theatre.
Older children and teens may wear ear plugs to protect their hearing in noisy environments; ear plugs are not safe to use for babies or young children because they are a choking hazard.
Model Healthy Hearing Habits
Wear hearing protection (example: ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones) when you participate in loud activities, such as mowing the lawn or vacuuming.
Talk to your children about how loud noise can hurt their ears and cause hearing loss.
Lower the volume of the television, music and your phone so that your children learn what a safe sound level is.
If you cannot lower the volume of something, move away from the source of the sound. The further away you are from a sound, the quieter/safer it is to your ears.
Have Your Child's Hearing Tested
Universal Newborn Hearing Screening
Universal newborn hearing screening is an important step to detect hearing loss as early as possible and connect families to programs and resources, when needed. In Ontario, all babies are eligible for free hearing screening when they are born. Certain medical and genetic risk factors for permanent hearing loss are also tested through Newborn Screening Ontario.
If you live in Toronto and your baby did not have their hearing screened at birth, or if they need a follow-up test, please contact Surrey Place.
The technology used for newborn hearing screening is safe and will not hurt your baby. At the appointment, a small earpiece is placed in your baby’s ear. The earpiece plays soft sounds in your baby’s ears and measures the ear and brain’s response to those sounds. Small stickers (electrodes) may also be placed on your baby’s head to measure the brain’s response to different sounds.
You will want to make sure that the audiologist is used to working with young children. Some hearing tests may be covered by OHIP, with a doctor’s referral. Contact an audiology clinic for more information.
Audiologists test hearing and ear health in many ways. Different tests are used depending on the age of your child, but may include:
Placing a small earphone in the child’s ear to measure how the ear and brain respond to those sounds.
Measuring brain activity in response to sounds played in each ear, using small electrodes placed on the child’s head.
Evaluating how your child responds to sounds, by turning their head or raising their hand.
If your child has hearing technology and you want them to develop spoken language, it is important that the hearing aids are being worn every day and turned on whenever your child is awake.
You can encourage your child with hearing technology by:
Saying positive things about the hearing technology and people who wear hearing technology.
Sharing books with characters who wear hearing technology.
Adding pretend hearing technology to a stuffed animal or doll.
If your child has been identified with a permanent hearing loss, contact Surrey Place for more information about the Toronto Infant Hearing Program. This program provides free services and support for children permanent hearing loss and their families.
The Infant Hearing Program in Ontario provides free services and supports to children with permanent hearing loss, and their families. If your child has been identified with a permanent hearing loss, contact Surrey Place for more information about the Toronto Infant Hearing Program. This program provides free services and support for children with permanent hearing loss and their families.
If you are interested in American Sign Language (ASL), contact Silent Voice for information about their program and services.
If your child is attending school, contact your child’s school board for additional support.