Uncovering the Fear of Masks

Model: Maggie Kilgore. Photo by Zachary Dailey, Dailey Life Photography

By Sandra Bolan

Normal: conforming to a standard, usual, typical or expected. – Oxford Dictionary. 

To say the last four months have been anything but normal would be one of the greatest understatements of all time.

We have gone from having the unabashed freedom to go wherever we want, whenever we want, however we want, to sheltering in place.

Everything that was normal – going out to dinner and a movie; having fully stocked shelves at the grocery store; going to or watching in-person live sporting events; birthday parties and graduation ceremonies – have all been replaced with another version of itself – empty store shelves, working at home, no sports and Zoom celebrations. 

This is the new normal.

But as the country starts to come out of its quarantine, there is yet another version of normal we must get used to – wearing masks. 

This is one new norm that appears likely to stick around for an indeterminate amount of time.

“The purpose of people wearing masks in public right now is to protect the community. Since so many people who have COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, wearing masks can help reduce the possibility that someone with no symptoms could transmit the disease to others,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For some kids, seeing nurses and doctors on television wearing masks helps them think of these medical professionals as superheroes, like Batman and Spiderman, and not like the scary face-covered people who stick them with needles and make their arm hurt when they go to the doctor’s office.

But for other children, in particular, the incredibly young ones, masks are disconcerting and can make them extremely uncomfortable, even frightened.

“Masks hide part of a person’s face. Young children rely on faces. From the time they are babies, young children look at faces for signals they need to feel safe,” according to KidsHealth.org. “When faces are partly hidden by masks, kids can’t see the friendly smile or familiar look that usually puts them at ease.”

Parents need to explain, in age appropriate language, but not overshare details, why everyone needs to wear a mask. 

“Even the humblest of masks can be scary – scary in themselves and scary as reminders of the threat of infection and the generally frightening times through which we are living,” according to a New York Times’ article written by pediatrician Perri Klass.

“I think it’s important to explain to kids that people are wearing masks as a way to help others – otherwise they assume it’s because they’re dangerous,” according to Dr. Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute.

One way to help children get used to seeing partially covered faces is for everyone at home to wear masks. 

Kids can also put masks on their stuffed animals, action figures and dolls. Another way to get children to like wearing masks is to have the kids decorate them.

“This might help them feel a sense of ownership and control over the situation. A personal touch can help make it more of a normal part of their routine and make it more likely they’ll want to wear their mask,” according to KidsHealth.org.

How Young is Too Young?

Children under the age of 2 years should not wear a mask or face covering due to the risk of suffocation, according to the CDC. 

A child should also not wear a mask if she has difficulty breathing with the face covering on or has a severe cognitive or respiratory impairment.

How to Wear a Mask

Children and adults need to wear their masks properly for them to be effective. 

They should fit securely over the nose and mouth and stretch from before the ear to the other side. 

Masks should be secured with ties or ear loops. 

They need to include multiple layers of fabric.

Masks must allow for breathing without restriction.

The masks should be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to its shape.

Wash your hands before putting the mask on and immediately upon removing it from your face.

Do not touch the mask while wearing it.

Wash the mask after each time you wear it. Not only will the mask be dirty from saliva, but it will also likely contain other germs and contaminants. Wash it in the washing machine with hot water and dry completely on medium or high heat.​

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