I realize there has been controversy in wearing masks for health reasons. The purpose of this article is to focus only on the psychological implications.

What are the psychological impacts of wearing masks?

After wearing masks so long in response to COVID, I became aware of changes in social dynamics. I generally like to smile and greet other people when I am out and about whether or not I know them. However, in grocery stores, it seems like people avoid making eye contact as if acknowledging each other will spread COVID. Seeing people while going for a walk has had similar responses. I observed people just staring straight ahead, again as if making eye contact or saying hello might contaminate them. I have noticed people driving alone in their cars while donning masks.

How strange this must appear to children. Parents and teachers want children to open up, share their thoughts and feelings but the grown-us around them have been masked and want them to mask. Imagine the psychological consequences to children. They previously have known masks as a disguise worn only for a short while for dress-up play or Halloween fun. They have seen shows with masked cowboys or robbers. They may have worn a turtle mask for warmth during snowy weather or skiing.

Wearing masks impedes social skills. It makes communication and understanding difficult. This is psychologically a problem for children. It interferes with play and the ability of children to develop relationships. In his original research article, Wearing Face Masks Strongly Confuses Counterparts in Reading Emotions, Claus-Christian Carbon reported on how wearing face masks can adversely impact recognizing emotions. The findings indicated that the ability to identify angry, disgusted, happy, and sad were “strongly reduced.”

Have your children’s worries about illness risen?

But wearing masks for fear of sickness is very different. Inherent in the statement is “fear”, anxiety, worry. Children are confused by adult behaviors of wearing, then not wearing masks, but children are still being required to wear them in school. Parents become confused as well. Of course, they want to protect their children from getting ill—that is what responsible parents do. Very unintentionally though, the take-away for children is fear of getting COVID or any ailment.

What fears do adults project?

Children take their cues from adults. Do you inadvertently express your own anxieties? Do you think you are a helicopter parent and behave in overprotective ways toward your children? Do you say one thing while your facial expressions and body language say something else?

How can adults help children now?

• Become aware of your own anxieties that may have negatively impacted your children, in addition to the realities of the pandemic.
• Stay current on expert health recommendations for children.
• Remind children of good hygiene at home and school.
• It is wise for you and your children to continue washing your hands with soap frequently.
• You and your children should be cognizant of proper protection when coughing or sneezing.
• Healthy nutrition is prudent.
• Exercise and get fresh air.
• Play, laugh, and sing together.