Pandemic Parenting: How to talk to your kids...
By: Alicia Ross
Wearing A Mask
As Massachusetts is slowly opening back up again, some families may feel ready to venture back out into their community. As a parent, you may want to bring your children out to the park, the beach, or even stores and restaurants. However, the town your kids know and remember looks a little different now. Restaurants have more outdoor seating, the streets may be less populated than before, and most obviously, everybody is wearing a mask.
For children, especially young ones, this can be confusing and unsettling — maybe even a little scary. Dr. Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies facial recognition skills in children, shared some useful information with Perri Klass, M.D., contributor to the New York Times. He explained abilities to read and recognize faces take some time to develop. “Starting at around age 6, children begin to develop these skills, but, he said, it is not until they are about 14 that they reach adult skill levels in recognizing faces” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/well/family/coronavirus-children-masks-fear.html). This means that for any child younger than 14, seeing a mask on a stranger’s face (or even their parent’s face) may throw them off.
This confusion can be particularly salient in children with social anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to Roberto Olivardia, a psychology lecturer at Harvard Medical School (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/well/family/coronavirus-children-masks-fear.html). Olivardia, as well as other experts, suggest making masks at home as a fun arts and craft project, playing games trying to read facial expressions with masks on, and relating the experience to superheroes.
In addition to adjusting to the sight of others wearing masks, children must learn to wear one themselves. In some children, discomfort or anxiety could arise as they adapt to this unfamiliar addition to their “wardrobes.” If you are struggling to get your child to stop fidgeting with their mask or having difficulty conveying the importance of the mask, here’s a helpful video to show them:
For your little social butterflies who’ve been cooped up at home for months now, it may seem like a lifetime since they’ve seen their friends. All of us want to make our way back to a world where we can safely hug those closest to us, and for some parents, it may be particularly difficult to justify to your children why they can’t embrace their friends just yet.
An article from Motherly, written by Rebecca Shrag Hershberg, PhD, contains 10 simple, clear phrases parents can use to discuss social distancing with their children. From acknowledgement that “This is weird and different” to assurance that “A lot of things are still the same,” Hershberg helps you hold your child’s hand and affirm that “We are all in this together.”
Stories and visuals can be helpful teaching tools when discussing social distancing, particularly with younger children. This video, created by author Kim St. Lawrence, is a visual version of a children’s book entitled Time to Come In, Bear. It depicts a bear and his bunny friend, who explains to him why they must go inside. The video’s adorable animations pair with a timely, important message to show your little ones.