Garden School Director Emma Norris is helping the preschool students understand about why we do and do not wear masks, a challenging topic for all of us, but especially young children. Read on for some useful guidance.
Just as the transition to wearing masks was confusing for many children, the transition out of them can also be confusing and traumatic. What we know is that schools are reporting that the shift away from masks has brought up a lot of anxiety and confusion with children. It’s important to keep in mind that a significant number of children have never been to school, or have had very limited school experience, without a mask. They have been
told, whether directly or indirectly, that they must keep their mask on to stay safe, healthy, to keep family members healthy and many other reasons. The concept of Covid is a hard one for little ones to grasp but they have an understanding that Covid is bad and makes you sick. Now, by telling children to take off their masks, they will have to reframe everything that they have been told and noticed about the world for the last few years. The concept of why it is now acceptable to take off masks is hard for children to understand as they usually think of things in absolutes, bad or good, yes or no, safe or unsafe. Change is often triggering and difficult for young children.
As parents, what we can do to help support children is to open a dialog about masks and encourage them to make choices that make safe for them and your family. You can model this with your own choice on masking and explain your choice to your child. Including them in the conversation helps to reduce anxiety and encourages children to form their own opinions. At the Garden School, we always have a had a focus on “taking care of your own body”. Frequently this manifests as children making the choice on where to sit at circle or snack, what morning activity they would like to do, or what they would like to eat out of their lunch. “Taking care of your own body” will now also include choosing to wear a mask while outside or not. We are expecting that some children will not yet want to take their masks. We are also expecting that there will be children who choose to have their masks off while outside.
Your language with your child at home can be similar to this. Supporting your child in developing self- autonomy is all about talking through their choices and then allowing them to make their own choice. With younger children, this can often mean presenting them with two (acceptable) choices and letting them pick. With older children, 6 and over, talking to children about their broader choices and having conversation about the potential consequences, both good and bad, about various options and supporting their choice is a good place to start. Of course, this
should also be a living conversation where you check back in with your child, but never pressuring them to change their mind.
I recommend the book “Outside, Inside” by LeUyen Pham if you would like to add to your library at home. We have been reading this book at school. It’s a beautifully done story that walks through the pandemic without using scary buzz words (Covid, pandemic, lockdown) and talks about what happened. At the end of the book, spring comes and the pictures show people playing and hugging without masks. The book is a wonderful way to open conversation
with your child about what they notice on the pages, what they remember feeling over the last 2 years and conversation about change.