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Getting Kids Ready for Masked Reentry

Updated: Jul 21, 2020



As so many families are starting to settle into growing social circles and slightly slacked adherence to masked interactions, I’ve begun to get questions about how to prepare kids for reentry into camp or school. Will they have to wear their masks all day? How will the counselors react if my five-year-old takes off their mask? Will an attempted hug elicit the same reaction as a shove or a bite? While there are many more questions right now than there are definitive answers, one essential point is this: masks are here to stay and even our youngest kids need to get used to wearing them. 


Normalizing our Children to Masks

One of the most helpful things you can do is to normalize your children to masks. I see this as a matter both of attitude and ownership. The latter may be easier to address. If kids have to wear masks, and take responsibility for keeping them and wearing them, it is ideal if they can have a mask that they make their own.  Sit together and let your kids pick out their masks, or better yet, order the “create your own mask” from Crayola or white masks from Amazon and let them make their own. Fabric markers or spray paint allow for all kinds of personalized fun.


The next piece requires more ongoing attention to how you discuss and model mask wearing with your kids.  


We don’t know exactly what classroom situations will be, but if we are there, yes, kids will (most likely) need to wear masks for the majority of the school day. As a teacher, I can admit that I am not looking forward to the fall when a significant portion of the attention that I ordinarily spend managing and teaching a classroom of kindergartners will instead be devoted to managing COVID-safety concerns. I’m sure there will be an excess of reminders to “put your mask back on” or “go wash your hands”. Although some reminders may be delivered (and received) with frustration, we’ll all need to remember that it is coming from a place of care and necessity.


I know that I will begin by explaining why it is so important to wear our masks, to keep things (like LEGOS or pencils) out of our mouths, and to wash our hands well. When kids understand the why (with an age appropriate explanation), they will be more motivated to follow through with these COVID related practices and to work with their community to help keep one another safe. These guidelines are not arbitrary rules being imposed upon them. These are the best we know to do so that we can all get back to school while keeping each other healthy and safe. 


One way to approach this conversation is to discuss community, and our considerations for others within our communities. Learning to function as part of a classroom community has always been a foundational part of the kindergarten curriculum. This learning becomes more significant now that our behaviors within the classroom may more significantly affect the health of fellow classmates and their families. After months spent in isolation from wider communities, this consideration for others outside each student’s family may be a more difficult transition.


Counselors or teachers, dealing with their own worries, may be “strict”. It would help to prepare your kids for this context. Remind them that the adults in charge are probably going to tell them again and again to keep their masks on. These rules or agreements are non-negotiables. It is important to emphasize that teachers and counselors are keeping everyone safe so that the kids can all have fun together at camp and/or school! 


Tell your kids that you are so glad that the counselors are going to be strict about it - you feel good that then everyone will stay healthy. If your child feels like the counselor was “mean” please back up the counselor or teacher. This is not a time for negotiation. So much is out of our control right now and that can be a scary place for kids. Let them feel that you are certain and unmoving in this non-negotiable point of following the safety protocols put in place by their camp or classroom. This is a time to reinforce to kids that you and the people you partner with to keep them safe (their schools and camps) are doing what is best for them. Kids may get upset. That is okay. They will recover and will feel safer and more secure knowing that there are lines and limits. Kids adapt to necessary boundaries if we let them. 


Be Okay With it Yourself (Or at least pretend to be!) 

When they whine - listen, validate, restate. Yeah, it is getting a little hot, and part of me wants to take my mask off, too, but I know how important it is to keep everyone around me healthy so I am going to keep it on. Be open, but be clear. Right now, it is a non-negotiable. Try to build a habit of keeping it on while playing or just walking through town. Explain to your kids that when it is just your family or your pod, you (the grown up) are being careful to keep things safe. At camp, the counselors are doing their job and that is to keep everyone safe and healthy. The best way we all know how to do that right now is for everyone to wash their hands often and to keep their masks on when at camp or school (or the grocery store, etc.). 


Even if your social circle is expanding and you are spending more unmasked time with family and friends, it is important to continue to reinforce the importance of masks with your kids. Help them understand that time at camp or school is different than when you are together with your family and extended pod. If you don’t talk about this difference, kids will internalize a very confusing message about masks, and their time at camp and school will inevitably require more mask-related monitoring and adjustment that takes time away from play and learning. Kids should feel comfortable and ready to ask questions (like, “I am thirsty. Is it okay to take my mask off to get some water?”) And, to hear reminders about going to wash their hands or putting their mask back on. If your kids are already learning these practices and being taught to take these instructions seriously (again, without negotiation), they’ll ultimately be able to have more fun in a mask-required environment.


Your Messages Make a Difference

The way that you approach it at home will have a HUGE impact on the experience your child will have at camp or school. If they are getting the message from you that they really don’t need to wear their mask or that, “Ugh, the masks are so annoying,” then, likely, they are going to be annoyed and have a more negative experience in those shared environments. Yes, the masks can be annoying AND I am so grateful that we all have them and I feel so happy that everyone else is wearing theirs, too! If we can all walk into the classroom this fall on the same page (if we walk into the classroom, that is), we’ll all have more time and energy to focus on the learning, community-building, and fun that the school year has in store -- whatever shape and form that takes. 



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