Children may be afraid of masks – here’s how to help

Face mask (Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash via Jewish News)
Face mask (Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash via Jewish News)

Masks used to be something that our children only saw people wearing when they were at the dentist, a visit to a hospital or on their favourite superhero’s on television.

We are now living in a world where wearing a mask has become the ‘new normal.’ Our children are encountering masks on a daily basis, from an array of fabrics to masks which look like they have come from out of space or a television costume department. From the 15th June the wearing of face coverings or masks became mandatory for hospital staff, visitors and for anyone using public transport, with some airlines also announcing that they will be requiring travellers to wear masks onboard.

For a lot of children, the sight of these masks can be terrifying.

We must remember that it is not unusual for children living in ‘normal circumstances’ to have a fear of people wearing masks or being dressed up. In our fight against coronavirus our children are exposed to these images regularly throughout their day.

It is easy to understand why some of our children are fearful of masks.  Children find masks disconcerting; they hide the face.  Children rely on being able to see ‘faces’ to be able to ‘read’ emotions and responses in adults/ carers.

So, what can we as parents and educators do to help our children and lessen their fears and anxieties?

  • It is important to acknowledge and validate your children’s fear – Masks can be scary because we can’t always see who the person is underneath, and they change a person’s appearance.
  • Discuss the different types of masks and their uses, some masks are for dressing up, such as clowns, and some masks are for protection, such as firefighters
  • In an age appropriate way, talk about how and why we are using masks now. Compare it to washing our hands to keep us safe, masks keep our faces safe and protect others.
  • Talk about the different materials that a mask can be made of and show your children pictures of masks in various forms.
  • If you are a parent wearing masks to go out, try on your mask in the house a few times. Taking it on and off so that your children become familiar with it and can see that ‘you are still you’ underneath. Allow your children to touch the mask and try it on, this will help normalise the wearing of masks.
  • Give your children a mirror, let them look at themselves with the mask on and off.
  • Play a “Who is behind the mask game.” Practising recognition skills, we can read expressions by seeing people’s eyes.
  • Create a ‘paper’ mask and allow your child to decorate it. Can you come up with Superhero names for each of your family members when wearing your special masks?
  • Children with additional needs may be even more vulnerable and may need additional support during this time.
  • Encourage your children to always talk about how they are feeling. It is important that children understand that adults have fears and feelings too and that it is normal to have these emotions, especially when life is very different during our fight against Coronavirus.
About the Author
Sarah Jacobs is wellbeing practitioner for JCAT - the Jewish Community Academy Trust.