March 3: Schools are Lifting Mask Mandates
Over the next few weeks many schools will be lifting their mask mandates, and I anticipate that people will have a wide range of feelings about this situation. Some families are eagerly awaiting this change and can’t wait to enthusiastically embrace children attending school without masks. Other families will make the individual choice to have their children continue to wear masks for the time being.
As I think about the juxtaposition of these different viewpoints, I have been reflecting on the fact that this situation provides an excellent opportunity to support kindness and empathy in our children. In places where mask mandates have already been lifted, I have heard of children who are no longer wearing masks teasing children who are still wearing them, and I have also heard of children wearing masks teasing those without masks. I believe that this teasing stems from children feeling uncomfortable. Some children will experience discomfort if they are making a different choice than a friend. Others may feel anxious about being around peers who are not wearing masks. Talking about feelings and addressing the issue of teasing head on can help shift children’s experience and provide an opportunity for supporting connection and compassion.
As you talk with your children about the mask mandate at school being lifted, I encourage you to consider the following:
Begin by talking with your child about your family’s approach to the mask mandate being lifted. If your child will continue to wear a mask to school, provide clear information about your decision-making process:
“The best choice for our family is to keep wearing masks for now. We’ll talk more about masks at the end of March and decide if anything is changing.
If your child will not be wearing a mask to school, you might want to preview the fact that masks may not be gone for good: schools might require masks at some point in the future, or you may have a reason to require that your child wear a mask.
Talk with your child about their feelings about the mandate being lifted. Do they feel excited? Nervous? Happy? Uncertain?
“Kids might have lots of different feelings about no masks at school.”
“I’m interested in all of your feelings.”
“Some of your friends might have different feelings about this than you do and that’s ok. We can talk about what you are feeling and about what you notice about your friends.”
Hold in mind that you can acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings even in the tricky situation in which your child is unhappy about a boundary that you have set:
“I hear that you’re frustrated that our family will still be wearing masks for a while. I know you’re not happy with that decision. I’m glad you’re telling me how you feel.”
“Sounds like you’re feeling mad that your sister doesn’t have to wear a mask at her school and you still have to wear one at your school. That’s a hard situation. I can understand why you feel upset.”
Many people will have mixed feelings about the mandate being lifted, and it can be helpful to use language to describe that situation:
“Sounds like part of you is so excited not to wear a mask and part of you really isn’t sure what it will be like.”
“So you’re nervous about being at school with no mask and you’re also excited. Did I get that right?”
Prepare your children for the fact that when the mandate is lifted, some students will still wear a mask to school and others will not. Whether or not to wear a mask is a family decision. A helpful script for this and many other situations
“Different families make different choices. In our family, we always try to be respectful of other people’s beliefs.”
To encourage empathy, help your child think about how other classmates might be feeling. For example:
“If just a few kids are wearing masks in your class, what do you think it would feel like to be one of those kids?”
“What are some ways to be a kind friend and support someone who’s doing something different than lots of other kids?”
Keep in mind that this is a great opportunity to talk about what it means to be a part of a community. In the school or classroom community, people come together who have a wide variety of backgrounds, ideas, experiences, and opinions. In order to create a sense of belonging in a diverse community, we want to support children’s ability to acknowledge the right for people to make different choices and to respect personal decisions that are different than our own.