Overcoming anxieties and challenges to communication

Janick Hickman, MS, is a mental health counselor with the Center for Hearing and Communication in Broward County, Florida.

Janick Hickman of CHC-FL is a mental heath counselor

Janick Hickman, Mental Health Counselor

Face masks have become a new way of life in the United States and all over the world. For children, especially, this can be a difficult and scary transition. Some of the feedback around the nation suggests that this experience may be anxiety provoking due to sensitivities, sensory challenges, a break in the child’s routine and unsettling feelings that may come from not being able to see facial cues. The following are items to consider.

When should a child wear a face mask?

The CDC recommends that face coverings should be worn “in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” For some states, this includes outside public spaces (if not exercising) where the person is unable to maintain a minimum of six feet of distance from others.

Here are other factors to consider:

  • Young children under the age of two years should not be wearing face coverings. Parents need to be mindful of possible choking or strangulation concerns.
  • The CDC and Healthychildren.org encourage parents of children who are considered high risk or severely immunocompromised to purchase and have them wear an N95 mask or standard surgical mask versus a cloth facial covering for protection.
  • For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, face masks pose a great challenge to communication due to the lack of facial cues and lack of lip reading capability. This can negatively impact all sorts of interactions (e.g., medical settings). Consider face masks that have a clear area over the mouth. If this option is not possible, the CDC suggests that you consider whether you (or your child) “can use written communication, use closed captioning, or decrease background noise to make communication possible while wearing a cloth face covering that blocks your lips.” If your child uses American Sign Language, request a sign language interpreter at all medical, dental, legal, and educational appointments.

My child has anxiety about wearing a face mask; what do I do?

  • Acknowledge their feelings and concerns.
  • Give support.
  • Answer questions in age-appropriate language.
  • Perhaps name a family member or friend for whom your family wants to wear the mask. For example: “Addi has asthma, and we want to make sure we wear our masks to protect her.” Or: “We are wearing our masks to protect Grandma and Pop Pop.”
  • Practice wearing the mask at home. Start with baby steps (e.g., touching it, decorating it, putting it over the mouth without tying it or putting it over the ears, etc.).
  • Model wearing a face mask.
  • Share a social story with your child. Social Stories are a social learning tool that supports the safe and meaningful exchange of information between parents, professionals and child. Here’s one developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative ASERT).

For some children, it will be difficult to understand; for others, they may embrace the idea (“I’m a superhero”). Be patient.

Helpful videos

Helping Kids Wear Masks Video (Voiced English with Closed Captioning)

Mask Anxiety Video (Voiced English with Closed Captioning)

Other resources about face masks and children

7 Quick Tips for Parents by BiasBehavioral.com »

Centers for Disease Control »

KidsHealth.org »

UWHealth.org »

HealthyChildren.org »

We wish all our parents and families the best during these challenging times. If you have questions or concerns not addressed here, please click below to contact me. We’d love to hear from you.

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