The emotional impact of masks on children

Children wearing face masks, or being around others wearing face masks, is a relatively new experience in Aotearoa New Zealand because until last week we had been over 100 days free of community transmission of Covid-19.

There are a few things to keep in mind for tamariki in terms of their emotional experience of masks.  For example, the masks might feel and look frightening to children, and communication will be more difficult for them, especially for young infants and children who rely on seeing facial expressions to understand others, feel understood and to feel safe.

There is no specific information available about children’s use of face masks at the Ministry of Health’s website www.covid19.govt.nz.  At Level 2, masks are not required at school by students or teachers.  At Level 3, most of our tamariki are home anyway.  However, the current advice, at both Level 2 and Level 3, is that you should wear a face mask when not at home in places where it is difficult to stay 2m away from other people, such as at shops or on public transport.  

Wearing a mask and interacting with others wearing masks is therefore already, or may soon be, a common experience for our children.  You can read more in this article- https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/teach-me/122483228/coronavirus-at-what-age-do-children-need-to-wear-a-face-mask.

So, here are some ideas to help children with mask wearing.

Normalise mask wearing at home.  Have the adults wear them first, and the children as they get more comfortable.  Stuffed toys can wear masks too. Practice pulling funny faces and showing different feelings with your masked face, and then guess what each other is trying to express by looking at the eye area only.

When you are wearing a mask with a child, keep in mind they can’t read your emotions as easily.  You might need to explain how you are feeling and what you are doing more than you normally would.  “I am happy it is sunny today”.

When you and your child are interacting with masked people, remember the child might not recognise people or know what to make of them, so you might need to explain more.  “Here is the nurse.  I remember her from last time.  She is super friendly”.

Use body language more, and physical connections such as hand holding.  Your child might need to hold your hand more around people wearing masks.

Also, sometimes it’s hard to hear someone who has a mask on, so you might need to repeat yourself or speak more clearly if you are wearing a mask with your child.

Children under two, or those who can’t take masks or off by themselves, should not wear masks, as per the guidelines at https://www.health.govt.nz/our...

More ideas can be found here https://challengingbehavior.cbcs.usf.edu/docs/Wearing-Masks_Tipsheet.pdf

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


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