How to help your child understand why everyone is wearing masks

HAPPY TO PLAY THEIR PART: Bailey and Taylor Hartas wearing facemasks on Sunday morning. Picture: RICHARD CRABTREE
HAPPY TO PLAY THEIR PART: Bailey and Taylor Hartas wearing facemasks on Sunday morning. Picture: RICHARD CRABTREE

REWIND eight months ago, and it would be a remarkably strange concept to all of us.

So how can we expect children to understand why everybody is suddenly wearing facemasks?

From Monday, regional Victoria will join Melbourne in wearing mandatory facemasks in public.

Children under-12 do not have to wear masks, while children under two have been told not to wear masks.

However some people are concerned a unique world in which the majority of the public are wearing masks will be difficult for kids to grasp.

It's a pretty scary concept for all of us really - children and adults.

Erin Freeland

Stawell's Erin Freeland is a mother of four young children aged between three and ten.

She said she was encouraging her kids to wear facemasks, but admitted it was a difficult thing to explain.

Ms Freeland said the masks increased the importance of non-verbal communication.

"It's a pretty scary concept for all of us really - children and adults," she said.

"The simple act of a smile is now missing from our community.

"A look to your Mum when you're having a tantrum, and offering a look of support, that has been taken away.

"So you have to be really conscious of your non-verbal communication."

Erin Freeland, right, with Todd Matthews of the Swifts after winning Tim Chatfield medals.

Erin Freeland, right, with Todd Matthews of the Swifts after winning Tim Chatfield medals.

Ms Freeland, 32, said giving her kids choice when it came to masks helped smooth the transition.

"We let our kids all pick their own masks for themselves, just so they felt like they had a bit of control," she said.

"If you can give them a little bit of control with something like this, I think that can go a long way. We're all just doing our best."

Wimmera Psychology clinical psychologist and social worker Kate Alessia said each child's reaction to facemasks would be different.

"Some will see it as interesting and unusual, some will see it as a game wearing these big masks. It's going to vary a lot from kid to kid," she said.

"But a lot of kids are already quite anxious about COVID-19, so what they need is simple reassurance."

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Dr Alessia said keeping the message clear and concise was important.

"Kids will really benefit from being told the masks simply keep the germs out - that's going to be understandable," she said.

"Even if that's not technically correct, because masks do more than that, I think that is the most reassuring way to explain it.

"Kids already have a higher level of anxiety around COVID-19, so they don't need to hear adults talking with a high level of uncertainty or fear."

Horsham brothers Bailey Hartas, 6, and Tayler Hartas, 9, said they were happy wearing the masks.

Tayler however admitted the mask was a little bit uncomfortable, and expressed annoyance at his disposable facemask slipping down his face.

Bailey and Tayler Hartas. Picture: RICHARD CRABTREE

Bailey and Tayler Hartas. Picture: RICHARD CRABTREE

Regardless, he said he was happy to wear the mask for his community, particularly to protect his older relatives from the potential effects of the coronavirus.

Monash Children's Hospital Professor Nicholas Freezer also reminded parents not to let children under two wear facemasks due to the risk of choking and strangulation.

Professor Freezer said that the smaller size of children's airways could make it more difficult for them to breath.

"Babies have very small airways - having any sort of face covering makes it difficult for them to inhale and exhale, which can lead to suffocation," he said.

"Infants are not able to alert an adult if they are having trouble breathing while wearing a mask, which also increases the risk."


This story How to help children understand why everyone is wearing masks first appeared on The Ararat Advertiser.