Photo: Gay Cioffi

The one word that I have heard repeatedly from friends and family as they describe their emotional state during this difficult time is “helpless.” As we cope with the various consequences of the spread of the Coronavirus, we are all grappling with the feeling of a loss of control.

For young children, that feeling may be magnified as they react to school closings, social isolation, and a myriad of other changes to their daily lives. Add in the stress of witnessing their parents struggle with this “new normal,” and if asked, they too might use the word “helpless” to describe their emotional state.

While many things are unknown about the spread of this disease, we do know that wearing a mask, to protect ourselves and others from infection, is the number one action that we can take.

Last spring, when some restrictions were lifted for local businesses, we took my then three and a half-year-old granddaughter to the neighborhood shoe store to get new sneakers. Before venturing out, it was explained to her that she needed to wear a mask—just like her mom and grandmother—so that we could stay safe from germs. It was also emphasized that while staying safe ourselves, we could also be “helpers” to keep others safe as well. And without much resistance, she complied.

When we explain to children that they too have a role to play in stopping the spread of the disease by wearing a mask, this protects them physically but also psychologically. Giving them a concrete action to perform helps to eliminate or minimize their feelings of helplessness. It lets them know that even though COVID-19 is causing problems, there is, in fact, something that we can do about it. And children love feeling that they are part of a solution; it appeals to their natural instincts for optimism and altruism while helping to reduce their anxiety.

These are tough times for all of us, especially kids. While it may seem like a small thing, mask-wearing is vital in stopping the spread of infection while at the same time providing children with some semblance of control. That’s a good thing.

Stay strong and stay safe.