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Talking to your kids about no masks at school
If your school district is ending its mask mandate, here’s what you need to know.
Many school districts are ending their mask mandate for the 2022-2023 school year—and although these policies may change as the school year progresses, it’s probably time to ask yourself how to talk to your kids about going maskless at school.
Some kids may be excited about no masks at school, especially if they are old enough to remember maskless classrooms. Other children may be hesitant—and some parents may be hesitant as well. “You and your family still get to decide what’s best for your child even if your district goes maskless,” explains parenting coach Deborah Porter.
With that in mind, here are some questions that might come up as you and your children prepare for the upcoming school year—and some expert-driven answers to help your family make the best possible choices.
In this article:
Should your child wear a mask to school?
Just because your school district ends its mask mandate doesn’t mean your child should immediately stop wearing a mask to class. Some families may choose to keep their children masked, especially if someone in their household is immunocompromised or at higher risk for complications from COVID.
“If you choose to keep your kids in masks, normalize it,” advises Jennifer Thompson, Executive Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. One of the best ways to help your child feel comfortable wearing masks at school is to continue masking yourself—even if your workplace no longer requires masks, and even if many of the places you visit as a family have gone mask-free.
“It’s important to show the kids that masking is still a normal part of life and that it’s okay to do it in public, even when not everyone is,” says Thompson. “When your child sees your family masking on a routine basis, it creates good habits that are easy for your child to follow through with when they’re on their own.”
Other parents may find that although they’re ready for their child to stop wearing a mask to school, their child is reluctant to make the change. In this case, parents can use public health information—including, if possible, information provided by your child’s school district—to talk to kids about how COVID-19 has changed and prepare them for the transition.
“Explain to your child why your district is going maskless,” says Porter. “Having information will help them to be empowered.”
“Explain to your child why your district is going maskless. Having information will help them to be empowered.”—Deborah Porter, parenting coach
Does your child want to wear a mask to school?
Parents may be able to help their children build good habits, but children also pick up habits from their peers—and if the majority of students are going maskless at school, your child may want to follow their example. “Kids who are masked might feel alienated when they return to school,” Thompson explains. “Make sure they know they can talk about it, and their desires to remove masks if they want, and you’ll be open to the conversation.”
Porter suggests starting the conversation by explaining the school district’s recommendations—and then asking your child how they want to respond. “Ask your child what they want to do. Don’t assume that you know.” This gives your child the opportunity to feel heard, instead of simply being told what to do.
In some cases, you may end up agreeing with your child. In other cases, you may want to encourage your child to make a different decision. Either way, your child is likely to learn something important. “Asking your child whether they think they should wear masks to school builds critical thinking skills,” says Porter. “It also teaches your child how to speak to boundaries for their own body.”
Thompson agrees. “Give your child the freedom to make choices. It’s okay to tell kids when they should be wearing masks—like if they’re on a crowded bus, or inside with a lot of friends and less space. It’s also okay to allow kids to make choices about when they want to take the mask off—if they’re at recess, for example, or sitting at their desks. Giving them the autonomy to make choices increases their awareness and can help empower them.”
What are your family’s rules about when to wear masks?
Giving your child the opportunity to choose when to wear a mask is important. It’s also important to clearly identify the situations in which a face covering is not optional. “Set rules in the house about holidays and vacation planning,” Thompson advises. “Nobody wants to get sick before a trip and risk it—or put family at risk.”
Once you’ve established your situational boundaries around mask-wearing, social distancing and other COVID prevention strategies, Thompson suggests presenting your family’s rules—whatever they may be—as a shared plan. This is what your family does before big events, and you do it to ensure that everyone can enjoy the experience together.
“Giving the kids notice that for two weeks leading up to a Disney vacation we’re going to mask all the time at school so that we can make sure we get to go on our trip is helpful,” Thompson explains. “It reinforces something they’re excited about and helps keep them focused on staying safe leading up to the event.”
How should you behave around families that follow different masking rules?
Your family’s masking rules, both in terms of everyday interactions and in terms of special situations, are likely to be different from other families’ mask requirement. This means that your children may have questions about why they are being asked to do something that their friends, cousins or classmates may not have to do—or vice versa.
If your child is the one wearing the mask, help them to feel proud about their family’s mask requirement. “Role play what might be comfortable and confident responses to friends and others that might ask why they are wearing a mask,” Porter explains. “For example, I’m wearing my mask to protect my grandma who lives with us.”
If your child is the one asking why other students are still wearing masks, help them to understand that many families are making different decisions about masking right now. “Normalize masks and differences in masks like we do religion and other family dynamics,” advises Thompson. “Keep it simple by saying all families look and do things differently.”
If you are concerned that a family you interact with on a regular basis could be making public health choices that put your family at risk, remember that you have options. You can always mask yourself and your children, suggest outdoor activities or—if necessary—reduce the amount of time you spend with this particular family.
Likewise, if you are concerned that a family in your social circle is being overly cautious about masks, remember that they may be dealing with issues that put them at higher risk. Either way, avoid dismissing or disparaging families who do not follow your own masking rules. “When we talk negatively about others in front of our kids, they pick it up,” Thompson reminds us.
Your kids are also going to pick up how you feel about masks—and, more importantly, whether you are open or closed to discussion. No matter how you end up talking to your children about going maskless at school, try to stay open. This is especially important if your family’s mask rules don’t match what your child’s classmates or peers are doing, and your child asks you to reassess your decisions. You’ll also want to prepare yourself—and your children—to readdress your risks if the COVID situation changes for the worse or an indoor mask mandates is reinstated again.
“Kids are navigating some pretty big feelings with school and masks,” says Thompson, “and need to know they can come to you with all concerns.”
About Nicole Dieker
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.Read more by Nicole Dieker
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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.
Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
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