While many of us may be thrilled with new recommendations allowing kids to unmask in certain settings (Full disclosure, I am personally eagerly awaiting that opportunity for my kids and for children in general), we need to take a moment to consider that not all of our children may be as excited to unmask.
For some kids, particularly those with more introverted personality types, masking constraints may have felt protective and even helped those children to navigate the tricky waters of developing while in “hiding”. For these introverts, wearing a mask made them feel just a little invisible, and it was a dream. Caregivers, teachers, parents, and guardians need to be prepared to help ease this transition for those children.
Keep in mind, in this article we are focusing on children who have the option to remove their masks and are choosing to keep it on despite their parent/community support in doing so. There are other children who may be struggling with unmasking because they are experiencing anxiety about their health or the health of others, or uncertainty from cues coming from the adults. I will address those situations in another article.
It’s important to understand how masks helped introverts in order to understand how to help with this transition.
1. A chance to read eyes and body language, instead of talking.
Wearing masks has allowed some introverts to be “social,” while having the chance to study others and connect on a different level.
2. Freedom from the feeling of forced smiles to look interested.
This is an important reminder that looking happy is different for everyone. Some introverts may feel pressure to smile in order to explain to others how they feel. This requires constant awareness of how their facial expressions are perceived by others and can lead to increased self-consciousness. I remember years ago when my younger daughter was sitting looking serious at the dinner table. I asked her if something was wrong. She said “Just because I am not smiling doesn’t mean I ’m not happy”. I keep thinking about that to this day. Temperament changes how we express and perceive emotions.
3. A different kind of creative expression or fashion statement.
For many children who are not big talkers, making a statement with their mask was an easier way to communicate with peers.
4. Permission to be quiet.
Wearing a mask empowered some introverts to be quiet in social settings without any perceived awkwardness. The protection of a fabric covering allowed children to feel increased safety in large group settings.
5. Less social exhaustion.
One feature of introverts is that they may tend to feel drained by social interaction. That doesn’t mean they don’t like being social, but simply that doing it for long periods of time is taxing. Wearing a mask allowed for “breaks” throughout the day, where facial expressions were hidden from others.
If you suspect that a child in your life is feeling nervous about unmasking, here are a few tips to help.
1. Ask children to tell you what it feels like not to wear a mask.
Assuming children feel a certain way can feel isolating. Make room for them to express how they are truly feeling by asking openly and without judgment. Try not to rush to offer your own interpretation.
2. Connect to your own experiences.
Connecting around moments where you’ve had a similar feeling can help children feel understood. You may say something like, “Sometimes when I am wearing a mask, I feel a little less pressure to be friendly. I wonder if you’ve ever felt like that?”
3. Share your observations.
If you can, try observing children in newly unmasked settings to help them to identify what feels challenging. Use the phrase “I notice” to help share behaviors you’ve witnessed. You may say something like, “ I’ve noticed you putting on your mask between bites while you’re eating with friends. I wonder if we should practice eating in public so that it feels more comfortable?”
4. Help children make a plan.
Work with children to make a plan that pushes them out of their comfort zone a little bit each day. Help them ease into maskless activities, and avoid overprotecting them to the point where they don’t push themselves. Try saying something like, “What can we practice to help you feel more comfortable in that situation?”
5. Role play.
Practice with children how they can communicate more with their face. For older children, have them practice in a mirror and connect how they appear to others with how they feel.
6. Take breaks.
Work to identify opportunities for children to take breaks to rest their faces and have physical space to recharge. This “alone time” is important to fill their tanks and allow for greater social interaction when needed.
Thinking of all of our children during this transition. Leave a comment or reach out below to tell me how you are doing. I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for being a part of Raising Good Humans. We are in this together.