Many children are thrilled to see their classmates smile in person for the first time in two years, but others are nervous about whether it is safe for themselves or their loved ones. Some are concerned about being ridiculed for their decision to wear a mask (or not).
Shannon McCormick, 47, who works in public relations in Upper Arlington, Ohio, says her 12-year-old daughter feels safest at school and has no plans to change that.
“When we go somewhere, she wears her mask first,” said Mrs. McCormick. “I’m going to ask her how she’s feeling and measure against what is happening on earth.”
Child psychologists say it is important for parents to help their children navigate the growing rules and social pressures, listen to children’s fears and understand why masking is changing. Even kids who are mostly excited about wearing masks may have some concerns. Parents can help their children find ways to respond to uncomfortable social situations.
Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidelines for county’s Covid-19 risk assessment, the agency recommended universal school masking in less than 10% of U.S. counties as of Thursday, up from 95% the previous week. The Matrix
K-12 School Closure and Mask Tracker Pelham, NY, a data company, Burbio Inc. As of Thursday, about 40% of U.S. school districts needed masks for students and staff, compared to 74% of districts in October 2021, according to the report. Policy
In New York City, K-12 public school students and staff will no longer have to wear masks indoors from Monday, March 7th.
Explain what has changed and what has not
For children who are worried about unmasked peers as well as returning to school, parents can help explain the changing state of the epidemic, mental-health professionals say. For example, they may notice that the number of cases in their district is decreasing as the omicron-driven wave decreases, and in many places public health officials have determined that the risk is now lower.
Parents can talk to their children about other ways to reduce their risk, says Brett Eneking, a child psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children’s Health at Indianapolis University Health in Indianapolis. For example, he said, it could help reassure children that “we will still do other things that will help keep us and other people healthy, such as washing our hands and staying home when we are sick.”
Some children may feel more comfortable wearing a mask. And some parents may want their children to wear masks.
Ask your kids for input and make choices within limitations, says Kelin Curry, a developmental psychologist and research scientist for children at the Seattle-based nonprofit Committee. For example, if you are at home with immunocompromised siblings or grandparents, you can ask your child to continue wearing a mask during class but let them decide whether to wear it during the holidays.
Leaving the choice entirely to children, especially middle- and high-school-aged students, could create opportunities to teach critical-thinking skills, Dr. Currie said. Andrew King, a father in Fairfax, VA, adopted the procedure with his 14- and 15-year-old daughters when their school recently lifted his mask mandate.
“I said it’s entirely your choice and I support that decision,” said Mr King
Her daughters have chosen to continue wearing their masks in class for the time being, she says, and they told her that most of their classmates did the same. Safety is a consideration in their decisions, but it also doesn’t hurt that masks hide girls’ new braces, he added.
Head off the social friction
Helping your child create scripts can help reduce social anxiety about why they continue to wear a mask, says Dr. Eneking. He suggests that if someone makes an uncomfortable comment, suggest giving the child some sample language to use, for example, “I wear my mask to protect my grandmother who is at high risk.”
Mental-health experts say it could also help explain that different families will have different rules for masks, just as they do in other situations.
Parents can provide examples when a rule changes in your home but not everyone, Dr. Curie recommends. For example: “In our family, we can’t watch TV at school night, but I know they watch TV at school night at your friend’s house, and families have different rules that they follow because not every family does. The same, “he says.
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