Kids in masks— a trigger for fear or a superhero's wardrobe? Part 3
The answer is all in the mind of a child but a brilliant parent and/or teacher can help flip fear triggers into superpowers.
Before we dive in, here's my disclaimer. We are all in new, and unknown territory with the current global and national events. No one knows the long-term emotional, social, and economic impact of these extremely complicated and multi-faceted issues. These are my insights as a forerunner in emotional safety education, offered only to provide an additional vantage point as you prepare for school this fall.
Let's recap for a moment so this all makes sense. In Part 1 we discussed how a child responds to danger. Their survival instincts are wired to follow the actions of their parents and caregivers. Their greatest survival tool is to model you. "When in doubt, watch a leader to figure it out."
In part 2 we explored the brain's ability to network and categorize information into giant schemas that help us make sense out of the world. These schemas tend to auto-fill conclusions for quick responses and help us solve problems. Children have limited life experiences and schemas therefore they tend to "feel" the world around them more than they can cognitively understand it.
The danger of this is how easily an impressionable child's emotional building blocks associate physical items with emotional responses. The danger of that is something as simple as a mask can become the trigger of fear-related responses for the rest of a child's life.
In a child's mind, a mask isn't just a mask, it represents danger. As long as it is present the child's survival instincts remain in high alert... and the problem with that is as long as a child feels emotionally or physically threatened on either a conscious or subconscious level they'll be stuck in that level of Maslow's emotional hierarchy and can't reach the higher levels of learning, retention, relationships and emotional health. They get emotionally and intellectually stuck there.
Learning in that environment then becomes part of the emotional schema of that fear-related trauma... and the problem with that is once the brain develops emotional trauma it cannot get past the triggers until or unless the subconscious triggers are rewired.
Are you catching the complexity and longevity of these emotional triggers?
It's not like we take the masks off in a month and everything returns to normal. The brain doesn't just forget associations. Not all children will develop trauma, but the potential for long-term triggers is likely and children who are already vulnerable are even more susceptible.
So what's the answer?
You can't always change circumstances but you can change what you do with them. Now that you understand how a child's brain is most like processing masks, you can help them rewrite the brain's schemas regarding it. It's a process called neuroplasticity... and it's pretty amazing how it works. You consciously change the associations in your brain to flip the negative into a positive. Here's an example.
Villian's wear masks, but who else wears them?
Superheros! Defenders of the universe!
One of the things I would do in a home or classroom with young children is to immediately tap into the power of their imagination to rewrite the definition of "The Mask". Children learn through play, so you need to become the Pied Pipper of their imagination.
I'd start on day one of school if possible. Let your students come to class as superheroes, incorporating their masks into their costumes. Capes are easy to make... literally scraps of fabric that can be tied. Encourage parents to send their children in "costume". Make a stash of capes for your classroom for children who don't have one. This is an easy schema to tap into that instantly changes the narrative from scary to fun. This is like Halloween... every day... and Halloween is SO MUCH FUN!
Here's some other ideas you can incorporate with little effort.
Cowboys with bandanas over their masks.
Medieval theme with knights in shining armor and princesses with veils.
Alibaba and Princess Jasmine
Oh my gosh... so many costumes... so much fun... Your options are endless. And yup, you might want to incorporate costume making in your classroom— even more fun!
Okay, now let's take it one step further. Create themed weeks. Incorporate the fun into your studies. Just go with it. The more you incorporate it, the more "fun" associations you'll create.
Will parents jump on board? Not all, but many of them will be grateful for your intentional efforts. Forward this series to them and explain why you'd like to try this and if any could help you.
If you would like a little more help, Championeers! has entire themed units that provide emotional safety tools that are all done for you. Just follow along with the kids while you all learn valuable life lessons and coping skills. Each unit incorporates transformative tools for emotional health and healing.
It always boils down to the same thing; you might not be able to control what's going on outside of your home or classroom, but you can develop an atmosphere of peace and innovation within it. I've linked some of my favorite resources below to help you get started.