How to help school children cope with COVID-19 masking inconsistencies among peers and friends’ families

Wearing masks will be optional in some Northern Virginia schools on Monday when the governor’s executive order takes effect. A D.C. area pediatrician has advice for parents to help children cope with any potential conflicts or confusion.

“… it’s important that we teach our children how to communicate with their peers, teach them to be resilient and stand up for themselves,” said Dr. Adrienne Collier, chief of pediatrics for Kaiser Permanente in suburban Maryland and D.C.

Dr. Adrienne Collier, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Largo, Md. said preparing kids for masking conflicts can teach them resiliency. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

“I think it’s a way that we can teach our children to communicate better and effectively, even though it may be challenging for them,” she said.

“And let them know — ‘It’s okay if your mom or dad or family doesn’t want you to wear a mask. But in our family, we wear masks because we want to keep each other healthy and prevent illness,’” Collier said, imagining how a conversation might go.

Age appropriate conversations related to people choosing whether to wear masks can begin as early as kindergarten.

“Some 4- and 5-year-olds may have already dealt with bullying for other reasons,” Collier said. “So I think we have to have those conversations early and often.”

Parents can emphasize that it’s okay for everyone to be different because everyone is unique.

“We all have different beliefs, different cultures and different traditions in our families,” she said. “Some people may wear masks, some people may not, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends.”

Acknowledging that it’s easy to encounter mixed messages, Collier said it’s the job of pediatricians and parents to filter out the messages that may be incorrect or less based on science and evidence.

Role playing a parent’s potential approach, Collier said: “I understand your friends or your teachers may be doing some something different. But in our family, this is the expectation. And this is why we’re doing this. We’re wearing masks to protect one another. We’re wearing masks to protect grandma. We’re wearing masks to protect your friend who’s on chemotherapy.”

Collier also said it’s important to remember that society still is in a pandemic.

“So we still want to socially distance as much as possible, wash our hands, use sanitizer and get vaccinated — get vaccinated,” she advised. “The only way that this virus is going to become endemic, instead of being a pandemic is if more of us and more of our patients and more of our community members get vaccinated.”

For advice on myriad topics involving children’s wellbeing, doctors recommend visiting HealthyChildren.org, a parenting website sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.


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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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