We’re heading into another school year in masks, and some parents are worrying that those masks might not be good for their children. How realistic are those concerns?
Health consequences of masks
Does mask wearing affect children’s physical health? In a word, no. Here are some of the things parents may worry about:
- Do masks interfere with a child’s ability to breathe? No. Fabric or paper masks don’t limit oxygen at all. They do limit the droplets that carry the virus that causes COVID-19, but oxygen flows right through face masks.
- Do masks inhibit lung development in young children? Again, no. People young and old can breathe through masks.
- Do masks keep carbon dioxide trapped in? Carbon dioxide molecules are very small, and they do not get trapped in the masks. While there have been claims in social media that masks cause people to breathe in carbon dioxide, there is no factual basis for this fear.
Masks and language development
Parents also worry that masks could slow down language development for their children. While it is true that children used visual information to learn language and to communicate, there is no evidence that masks interfere with the process.
Children with limited vision learn languages at the same rate as fully sighted children. This is evidence that seeing the entire face is not essential for language development.
Make sure to talk with your babies and toddlers at home. This will provide enough language experience to make sure they keep up with normal language development.
What about making sure that your child is understood? Some parents feel concerned about their toddlers being able to speak clearly with masks on. They worry that teachers or child care workers might not be able to understand their child’s speech if he or she is wearing a mask.
Experiments have shown that people are generally able to understand speech equally well with or without masks. Teachers and child care workers will be able to adapt.
How about emotions?
There have also been studies on children’s ability to recognize emotions with face masks in place. It turns out that children are able to understand emotions whether face masks are used or not.
Children might not want to wear masks. Adults also sometimes don’t want too wear masks — and kids might also dislike wearing shoes or other constricting clothing. Kids can tolerate wearing masks at school. They’ll probably take their emotional cues from their parents and the other important adults in their lives.
Reassure kids and help them feel like superheroes when they wear their masks.
Photo courtesy of Don Sniegowski.