How to help our kids feel safe and comfortable without their masks
Two years ago, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared a global pandemic. For many of us, life would never be the same.
Fast forward two years, and we’re still dealing with the pandemic’s aftermath. The most significant thing I’m hearing now is that after years of wearing masks, many kids and teens feel overwhelmed and anxious about taking their masks off. From elementary school to college, life without masks is causing kids serious discomfort when it comes to confidence and body image, no matter the age or gender.
This makes sense for many reasons
For years, we’ve been told that our masks can protect us from an invisible threat. Now, we’re told we can remove our masks as we no longer need protection from that same threat. Kids see adults removing their masks in some settings but not in others. For so long, we’ve been in the habit of wearing masks whenever we leave the house. According to Dr. Phillippa Lally, research associate at University College London, it takes an average of 66 days to develop a new habit. So, it should come as no surprise that after wearing a mask for years, kids may suddenly feel naked without them.
For many, wearing a mask has provided a comfort zone. It has become a little tent that kids could hide behind, concealing their fears, expressions, emotions, teeth, and acne. Think of it like hiding behind a pair of sunglasses. By removing their masks, many kids are now complaining that they feel exposed.
In school, we’ve seen a marked increase in kids acting out and being sent to the guidance counselor or nurse’s office. We have seen an increase in self-injury and parents calling into the school saying that their child “isn’t feeling well.”
All of this is an emotional response
The truth is, we didn’t prepare these kids for what they might feel like when it was time for them to get bare again. But, there are things we can do to raise our kids’ confidence about removing their masks.
Parents have to model confidence
Kids take their cues from their parents, so it’s important to set a good example. In fact, children whose parents show healthy self-esteem tend to be more confident themselves. When it comes to current mask wearing, it’s important to become educated and communicate those facts to your children. Seeing you tackle this new phase of the pandemic with optimism will set a good example for your kids to follow.
It’s okay to let your kids know that everyone makes mistakes, including you. After all, that’s how we all learn. Don’t allow setbacks to overwhelm them. It’s natural for you to want to protect your kids, but minor setbacks can lead to teachable moments. In fact, it’s good to actually embrace imperfection. We know that perfection is unrealistic, but kids see social media posts, TV shows, and magazine ads and think everyone they see is perpetually happy, rich, thin, popular, and well…perfect. It’s good to let them know that those images aren’t real. They are a facade and both unrealistic and dangerous. They need to know that being less than perfect is a beautiful part of being human, and that it’s totally okay.
Encourage new things
Encouraging kids to think outside the box and develop a new skill at something they enjoy will not only divert their focus away from what they may feel anxious about, but also obtaining new skills will boost their self-confidence that can carry over and help them tackle any challenges they may encounter in the future.
As with developing new skills, setting goals can relieve anxiety. Have your child write down some goals, both large and small, that they would like to accomplish. Help them achieve their goals. Turning their dreams into reality will give them a sense of control and tools to set new and achieve other goals throughout their lives.
Cheer them on
It’s good to praise your children when they achieve their goals, but it’s just as important to let them know how proud you are of them even if those goals aren’t met. Show them you love them, no matter what. Remind them that no one hits the bull’s eye with the first arrow. It takes time to develop a skill. Let your kids know how much you appreciate their efforts, whether they learn a new word as toddlers or learn to drive as teenagers. Reassure them that, win or lose, you are always in their corner. Praising your children along the way will boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem.
We’re living through extraordinary times. They’ll be writing about this in the history books! It’s only natural for your child to go through a period of adjustment. It makes sense that stepping out from behind their masks can be frightening. Be sensitive to their feelings. Set good examples. Encourage them to get their footing on their own time. And always let them know you understand their fear and anxiety, and that you will always be there for them, no matter what.
If your child is feeling anxious or overwhelmed, especially when it comes to the new masks guidelines, please reach out to us. At Wallace Family Therapy, we are trained to provide the most effective treatment that meets your specific needs and challenges. We’re here to help you.