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Is Your Baby Afraid of Face Masks?

Does your infant cry in terror every time you wear a facial covering to reduce the spread of COVID-19, or when they see a stranger wear one?

With new regulations requiring that adults wear face coverings at indoor public spaces, the team at Parenting Now wanted to provide some tips for acclimating your baby/toddler to seeing you in a face mask.

Why babies are afraid of people in masks:

  • Most babies don’t develop the concept of object permanence until around 8-months old. Object permanence means knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden. So a young infant who sees you in a mask is unable to process that the rest of you exists under the mask!
  • Infants and children rely on our facial expressions to look for emotional cues, as well as how to interpret situations. With adults wearing facial coverings, an infant’s ability to interpret a situation is limited and that can feel upsetting to them.

Ways to help your child:

  • Young infants who haven’t developed object permanence, rely heavily on their sense of smell. When you have to wear your mask, consider baby-wearing your infant or having something that smells like you nearby.
  • Introduce your child to a face mask in a familiar setting, such as your home.
  • Let your infant see your mask, and touch it, as well as try placing it on you.
  • If your infant is around 8 months or older, play peekaboo with the mask so they can associate it with something fun and not scary.
  • Use a fun, playful voice when you are wearing a mask.
  • For older infants and toddlers, try putting masks on stuffies and taking them back off, making it a fun game for you and your child.
  • For toddlers, have them pretend to be a medical superhero in their mask, taking care of “patients.”

Comfort is the name of the game

One of the best things you can do is comfort your child when they do get scared, rather than getting frustrated or telling them they are being dramatic. It’s normal for humans—of any age—to feel uneasy when they can’t read someone’s facial expression. It’s biological and largely a survival instinct. If your child gets upset, snuggle them and say, “You are safe, I am here with you.”

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