Kids in masks— the good, the bad, the unknown. Part 1
Wearing masks at school protects our children— right? The reality is we don't know the long-term impact of wearing masks on a child's emotional health.
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.
Since your brain's #1 job is to keep you alive, it should come as no surprise that the fear alone of a potentially dangerous threat places it on high alert. As a national and global society, we're not only facing a pandemic but all of the social, emotional, and economic issues associated with it simultaneously.
If emotional distress had an ultimate recipe for potency, this would be it.
How a person responds to emotional distress comes down to how their brain determines their personal safety and the coping skills they've developed to deal with it. Children respond by modeling their parents and caregivers.
One question that's on the minds of all as we navigate this multi-faceted crisis is the safety of our most vulnerable while trying to bring a nation back to some kind of normalcy. This is where the controversy of children wearing masks at school comes into play.
Sounds like a simple issue but when keeping socks and shoes on a 5-year-old proves challenging, how do you keep a mask on them for hours a day? The real question, however, is how will it affect their emotional health long-term when a child's primary gage for social acceptance and emotional safety is relayed through facial expressions and body language?
Adults and children process threats differently. Emotionally healthy adults are usually able to identify a potential threat in advance and think through abstract ideas and scenarios to either avoid, minimize, or solve the problem. Children, on the other hand, often don't know what is or isn't a threat. Until they do, their survival instincts take verbal and non-verbal cues from their caregivers to know what to do. Their brain's default motto is, "When in doubt, copy a leader to figure it out."
Children are watching absolutely everything you do and responding in like manner.
Here's where adults must stop and think before we react in front of children. Even if an adult's first response is panic, we still have the ability to stop, catch our breath, analyze the situation through a life-time of experiences and giant networks of information called schemas (more in part 2).
Children have not yet developed these expansive schemas. Their brain knows there's a problem by observing the adults around them, but they don't have the information or experience to know what to do about it, how to fight it, run from it, or solve it. It is the worst-case scenario for your brain and can lead to emotional trauma and fear-based patterns in the emotional safety building blocks of a child.
Yes, it's very serious and highly dependent on the responses of the adults around them.
Maslow's Theory claims that you can only reach your highest potential and self-actualization if every level of emotional safety is met. If there is trauma in any of the levels it must be dealt with and healed before the child (or adult) can move on to the next level.
So—the million-dollar question remains, how does wearing a mask at school affect a child's very delicate and impressionable emotional safety?
The short answer is we simply don't know, but as you'll learn in Part 2 of this series, the long-term effects could be devastating to an entire generation of children. The best way to counter the effects is to develop emotionally safe classrooms and homes with proven tools to achieve emotional competency at each level of security.
Here are 3 things you can do right now to help your children find peace in the middle of uncertainty.
1. Be Mindful
Your children are watching everything you do and hear more than you may realize. Consider how this information affects their emotional safety. Does it model for them peace or does it instill fear?
2. Be Proactive
Healthy adults stop and think before they act. You can choose to put your panic on pause and give your incredible mind a chance to think through potential scenarios to solve the problem and turn it into a positive. No one can do it for you or your children so teach them how to stop and think before they act.
3. Be an Example
Little eyes are always on you. Ask yourself if your actions empower, inspire, and equip your children to reach their greatest potential, or do they give them excuses as to why they can't? Do your actions teach your children coping tools and life skills to flip bad situations into building blocks for success or do they instill victimization and defeatism?
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.
For Happy, Healthy Homes and Schools!
Deanna Rhinehart Mom-E-School