How parents and educators can promote wellbeing and quell anxieties related to wearing a mask or face covering at school.
By Sue Easton, Director of Wellbeing & Learning
As we prepare to return to campus amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about the impact of wearing non-medical masks or face coverings on student wellbeing have surfaced. While wearing a mask has been proven to lessen exposure and provides us with the ability to reintegrate into society, it can be a challenge for us to accept the changes the virus has imposed on our lives. For children, this can be an even more complicated transition to understand, which is why it is vital to speak to young children about their emotions surrounding the start of school and the changes it may bring—including mask-culture.
As a positive education school, Ridley uses the PERMA-V Model to define “flourishing,” and we have used this framework to address common social-emotional concerns and to share some tips and help prepare families for September.
- provide positive reinforcement for appropriate use of masks, when you are out in the community
- give children choice in relation to the comfort of thier mask (some children like elastic behind the ears, while others prefer a toggle at the back)
- give children choice on the appearance of their masks (for younger students, a ‘superhero’ approach has been used for years in parts of Asia and may be effective)
Communicate clearly, considering tone, expression and body language – all of us at Ridley will, too!
- for younger children, use imaginative play to demonstrate appropriate use (e.g. with stuffed animals) and familiarize them with how their teachers may look this fall
- for older children, make masks together to ensure that appearance and comfort are personalized
- Practice wearing a mask while doing a task kids enjoy (such as watching TV or playing on electronics) to help normalize the feeling
“Not everyone is able to wear a face mask and many disabilities are invisible. Assume positive intent and be kind and respectful to those who cannot wear a face mask.”
- model appropriate mask use – children use social referencing to decide what they should do, meaning parents and teachers can lead by example.
- communicate clearly, considering tone, expression and body language – all of us at Ridley will, too!
- normalize the use of masks, giving young children the opportunity to watch and get used to seeing others in masks, as well as wearing them
- acknowledge feelings of discomfort, rather than telling children that they shouldn’t have a big issue with wearing a mask or seeing someone in a mask.
- help children understand why we are wearing masks, and the importance of doing our best to protect ourselves and others in our community (personalize it if you can, ie: grandparents)
- share information with them to further their understanding, like in this Bill Nye video
- support children in creating cloth masks for others in the community who do not have access
- celebrate consistency and appropriate use of masks as a way to be kind to others
- encourage self-advocacy when children do not hear or understand what someone says to them
Give children choice on the appearance of their masks.
- remind children that it has been repeatedly proven that we can breathe effectively through masks
- teach children how to put on and take off masks so that they are avoiding touching certain parts of the mask or storing it in a santitary location during lunch or outdoor play.
McMaster Children’s hospital coined the phrase “Play, practice, prepare, and be patient” in relation to the introduction of masks to children. We appreciate your support in helping our Ridley students with this adjustment. We know that their physical and emotional wellbeing are your top priorities as parents — and they are for Ridley, too. We are here to support you in your reintegration back to school and want to ensure you feel ‘Positively Prepared.’
Help children understand why we are wearing masks, and the importance of doing our best to protect ourselves and others in our community.
For more information on Ridley’s masking requirements for Grade 4 to 12 students and employees, please visit the Healthy Communities section of our Positively Prepared: Return to Campus Roadmap. A video featuring our Nurse Manager will soon be shared to help families understand proper mask etiquette from a health standpoint.