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Is your child afraid of the masks we wear?



Ways to make wearing masks and seeing others wearing them less frightening

COVID, masks, kids, scared

Over the past few months, the simple masks that Hudson Valley residents are wearing went from the disposable surgical masks we see at doctors’ offices to bandannas or elaborate ones that look like they’re out of a Hollywood movie. However, despite how much masks are being accepted by adults, our young kids may still see them as scary.

There are children who find Halloween frightening, children who hate clowns, children who react badly to anyone without a standard human face.  As reported in the New York Times, Roberto Olivardia, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School, said that as many as 1 percent of children may suffer from “maskaphobia,” which is a fear that persists for longer than six months, usually thought of in relation to costumes and superheroes. 

But for many children, seeing their parents wearing masks as they come and go, or going outside, in a world where most people are wearing masks, can be disconcerting, frightening or a source of sadness. One reason children may find masks disconcerting is that the ability to recognize — and read — faces is much weaker in young children than it will be by adolescence. Kang Lee, a professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, who studies the development of facial recognition skills in children says that adults look at faces as a whole. “If you wear a mask, I can still recognize you, even though half of your face is covered, I can still recognize the structure of your face,” he says. 

Starting at around age 6, children begin to develop these skills, but it’s not until they are about 14 that they reach adult skill levels in recognizing faces. So even friends and neighbors — seen from a distance — who are wearing masks may look more unfamiliar to children than they do to adults.

Here are three suggestions of your child is still wary of masks:
  • Parents are encouraged to put on, take masks off, and repeat the action so that a child sees that it’s still their parents.
  • Children may see those who wear masks as bad people, so remind them that the masks are being worn to help others, just like washing hands.
  • Connect the wearing of masks to a superhero and use doctors and nurses as examples of heroes who protect and help people, where masks are part of their uniform. The child is a superhero, too, when they wear their mask.


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