How to Communicate With Children Wearing a Mask

“Mask muffle” is a term I just coined, but it’s the real thing. If the fabric is meant to block out a bunch of tiny respiratory droplets, it is bound to drown our words too. It can be difficult to catch every word when you are standing next to someone wearing a mask, and even more so if you are advised to be six or more feet away. It doesn’t help that we have lost the ability to see how the person’s mouth forms words to fill in the gaps that children, in particular, rely on for speech and language development, as well as for social interaction.

You probably don’t wear a mask very often when out with your kids, but if you are a teacher, educator, or often hang out with other masked children, there are a few things you can do to communicate with them more clearly.

Speak like a kindergarten teacher

The best way to be heard by anyone, especially children, is to start slowly descending. If you are in a hurry to speak the words, they will be distorted by your mask. Speak slowly and deliberately. You can also focus on making your voice more expressive so that the children can better understand your tone. Your playful voice can be a little more silly, and your stern voice can be more serious.

I say this: speak like a kindergarten teacher, with their characteristic large, bright, expressive voices that reach even the most violent five-year-olds.

Name emotions more often

I saw a few friends post masked selfies on social media – usually with a caption saying they were actually smiling. Sometimes you can say, sometimes not. But if the person’s eyes aren’t wrinkling with a smile or staring at you through narrowed slits, it can be difficult to interpret emotion through the eyes alone.

As we do in photo captions, it can be helpful to be more mindful about naming our emotions – and asking children to name theirs. Dr. Perry Klass writes for the New York Times :

Sarah Geyter, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, said in an email: “Since most schools now require a mask, children and adults should start practicing more explicit verbal communication by expressing their emotions out loud.” In her opinion, children will learn to better read people’s eyes and understand emotional content by tone of voice.

But she also wrote that “parents and teachers may also want to ask children more often how they feel too.”

Masks actually give us a good excuse to describe how we feel more often and encourage kids to do the same. Additional practice of identifying and naming emotions can ultimately help strengthen their emotional intelligence.

Use more physical signals

Now that your voice is more expressive and you are naming emotions left and right, add the rest of your body.

Point out what you are talking about, gesture a little wider, clap your hands when you are delighted, and raise your eyebrows a little higher in surprise. You might be a bit like a theater actor performing in the back row for the audience, but you have a better chance of getting your point across if you emphasize your body language a little.

Finally, don’t worry too much about it.

Masks are not the best accessory for communicating with anyone , let alone children. But as frustrating as it is, and as worried as we are about kids losing valuable visual cues behind these masks, it’s not forever and not always. They lose those visual cues as they move around the world right now, but they still experience many mask-free moments at home.

Dr. Eva Chen, a developmental psychologist and assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told the Times that there is no evidence that children from cultures with even wider facial coverage are worse at recognizing faces or emotions:

While children usually pay attention to people’s mouths when they speak, “this is far from the only clue children need to communicate and learn,” she said, and cited a 2012 study showing that children can read emotions in the same way. on the face. when the mask was added.

In other words, what they lose behind the mask, they compensate with their eyes, tone of voice and body language.


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