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Parents worry about psychological impact of kids in a masked world

A mother says she is concerned about the anxiety her child could develop due to mask mandates, but doctors say kids may be more perceptive than parents thought.

Mother Sarah Wharton has a three-year-old who she says is typically very outgoing. 

Wharton said she now is concerned about the anxiety her child could develop as a result to mask mandates and the “stranger danger” factor that comes with masks.

“We have a friend who is a health care worker and she would come over to my mother's house leading up to Christmas and wore her mask the whole time and my daughter was looking like, ‘I don’t know you, who are you, why are you talking to my grandma,’” Wharton said.

However, doctors say a study is showing kids might be more perceptive in a “masked society” than many parents previously thought.

“They did study on kids ages seven to 13 and they actually found that most of the time the kids in that age group were still able to read what the appropriate response was even with a facemask on,” said Ohio Health Family Doctor, Ben Bring.

Bring said he’s been getting a lot of questions from parents about how kids could be affected in the long-term from everyone wearing masks in public.

The biggest concern he and other doctors have is social referencing.

“For example, if a child is about to touch a hot stove and you make a big face and say no don’t do that, the child will recognize that in addition to language to know not to touch the hot stove,” Bring said.

The best way for parents to make sure their children are getting the social referencing they need to develop is to make sure kids can see parents and others within their “bubble” at home and in safe environments.

“One of the things we like to do with our kids is we’ll set up video playdates where my son will call up one of his friends on Facetime and just build Legos and talk. So there’s still other ways of doing things socially distanced and still getting that interpersonal interaction that the kids need,” Bring said.

Bring said being honest with your child about why we wear masks and making sure they also see their parents in them can help to stop that fear.