The Impact of Pandemic-Era Mask Wearing on Our Kids

It has been over a year since face-masks became a critical staple of everyday fashion. As a result, this is the only world that babies and toddlers are familiar with. Although it is not yet understood what long term impacts this phenomenon might have on babies and toddler’s processing & reading of emotions, there are some important things to keep in mind as mask wearing carries on.

Normal child development depends on regular exposure to people openly expressing their emotions. We must then ask - when faces are concealed by masks, how does one, particularly a child, accurately process emotional reactions and develop a solid understanding of emotion in people around them? In other words, how can we ensure that our children develop healthy interpretations of the world when one of the most expressive parts of the body is concealed? There are a lot of different theories floating around regarding long term impacts. Unfortunately however, not much is actually known given the fact that an inadequate amount of time has passed to collect valid data.

With that being said, although we are a little over  a year deep into this crisis, it is not too late to help familiarize your children with the concept of masks and explore emotional processing under these constraints. The Brookings Institute published ideas of two effective, easy-to-execute methods to address this matter with your little ones:  

The first game involves playing peek-a-boo; but with a covid era twist. They recommend that parents play peek-a-boo every so often while wearing a mask. Cover your mouth and then take the mask away to reveal a smile. Do this several times- your doing that clearly explains to your child, even in their infancy that you are there for them and your love is limitless, whether your face is covered or not. 

The second game is called “guess my expression”. Ask your child to watch your eyes and eyebrows. Try to make them as expressive as your mouth (think about the term “smiling eyes”). Ask your child to guess what emotion you’re feeling based on the expression in your eyes and eyebrows. You can also reveal how the expression in the eyes matches your mouth by taking off your face mask. Although seemingly minor, these games have proven to help littles ones feel more comfortable with and adjust better to the unnatural experience of emotion decoding while masks are in the picture.

It must be acknowledged that masks have become a constant reminder of the pandemic. However, they have also become a constant reminder to our little ones that they are part of a community, they are being kept safe, and that people care about the wellbeing of one another. It depends entirely on us what message our kids will walk away with.

This sense of safety and belonging is a cornerstone of resilience, as is verbal communication. We can practice  and refine these emotional skills using games that encourage open communication and familiarization with a whole array of emotions. Strongsuit and Behind the Anger are great examples for that on our store. Games are proven to be  fantastic mediums through which we can continue strengthening our kids’ senses of self, degrees of resilience, and understanding of emotions, & communication capabilities.

Postdoctoral researcher Ashley Ruba, who works in a Child Emotion Lab calms parental nerves by reminding us, "Kids are really resilient. They're able to adjust to the information they're given, and it doesn't look like wearing masks will slow down their development in this case."