Our global community is experiencing something unlike anything most of us have ever gone through before. With the outbreak of COVID-19, we’re facing a world on unsteady ground. The future is uncertain and the present is very different from what we’re used to.
Adults are having difficulties adjusting to these changes, and COVID-19 anxiety is universally high. However, our rational and mature brains can understand what needs to be done and why. We know that washing our hands often and wearing a mask in public are measures that are helping to slow this pandemic.
But what about our kids? How can we get them to take these same precautions? This new way of life is uncomfortable, it’s weird, and it’s all a little scary. It's reasonable to see anxiety in children as a result. But for now, this is the world we live in, so we need to find ways to make our children comfortable and motivated to follow these health guidelines.
Making Your Child Feel Safe
First of all, our children need to feel a sense of safety. Their lives have been shaken up as they’re forced to endure changes in their life that are both plentiful and abrupt. The world outside their home looks like something out of a scary movie.
Children rely on facial expressions a great deal to comprehend situations, but this is suddenly unavailable to them with everyone donning masks. As Laurie Hollman, Ph.D, says, “For a young growing child who has been learning since infancy to imitate others’ faces, this can have a dramatic effect on their development.”
Here are some ways we can help our children feel safe:
- Explain how a mask protects them. For children that are old enough to understand the basic concepts of germs and illness, it will help to get an explanation of why it’s important to wear masks.
- Focus on the positive aspects rather than negative. Instead of seeing this as a scary and life-threatening situation, focus your conversation on how this will help to keep your family and everyone else protected. Encourage them to think about how they can help to keep other people safe and healthy at this time, and be a hero when the world needs them most.
- Tell kids what they can expect and why. Don’t let them be blindsided by a strange and unnerving scenario. Explain to them what they can expect to see and experience before they enter a new situation, such as their first time at the store or doctor’s office during this time.
For very young children who are just learning facial expressions and body language and rely heavily on those cues, Dr. Hollman suggests allowing the child to remove the mask from their parent’s face.
“Only by about 6-9 months does the baby understand that an object that is hidden is not gone but can reappear. However, it is only by about three years old that this understanding applies to people who appear and disappear. So, the mask disturbs this normal progression,” Hollman explains.
Letting your little one touch your mask gives them the opportunity to feel control over the situation, to have the discretion to hold it up and take it down themselves.
Face masks that kids actually want to wear
Once your child has more security around the current situation and a better understanding of the importance of wearing masks, try to find them a children's face mask they’ll be proud to wear. They might be inspired to wear one simply because they look up to mom, dad, or an older sibling who’s wearing one.
Better yet, it may help if they find the mask to be a fun addition to their wardrobe. I know plenty of fashion-savvy kids who care about how they express themselves. That’s why Bunnies By The Bay took this opportunity to create some adorable cloth face masks for kids with safety and good looks in mind.
If there’s any way you can find to make it fun to wear a mask, go for it! A sense of adventure is always helpful to build resilience in the face of turmoil.
Normalizing a tough situation
These new precautions we’re all taking to social distance and slow the spread of coronavirus are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The quicker we can normalize these changes for our kids, the better. Putting on a mask before entering the grocery store can be as routine and automatic as buckling a seat belt.
In these times of higher-than-normal stress, try to be extra patient with kids who may feel even more attached to their lovies and other favorite toys. These comforting objects have real therapeutic value and can help immensely with your child’s psychology and ability to cope.
It may be helpful to your little ones if their favorite stuffed toys become a part of these new routines. Children are already used to including their lovies in their daily activities, and often use these comforting items to experiment with their feelings surrounding stressful situations. When lovies and stuffed animals wear masks alongside your little one, it can be a reassurance that helps to smooth out a rough transition.
Comfort and kindness go a long way. This is a great opportunity to practice compassion, communication, and show love to the people in your life. Wearing a mask is no one’s favorite activity, but cooperation is essential to keeping our communities safe and healthy.
*Note that children under 2 should NOT wear a mask. A child must be able to easily remove a mask by themselves!
Written by Karie Kirkpatrick
I love what the Artists at Bunnies have come up with to keep kids safe and comfortable in these times and always!