How to talk to your child while wearing a mask for effective communication? The COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting everyone’s lives in one way or another. Many of us have to wear masks all day long. Does it affect children’s communication and language development negatively? Unfortunately, yes! How to communicate with your child while wearing a mask and make the best out of this situation? Here are 10 super easy tips for you. Plus a free guide to improve your child’s language skills anytime, anywhere!
With the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks have become a bigger and bigger part of our lives. Although wearing a mask is not yet a world-wide condition, it seems like face masks are here to stay. For how long? No one knows.
Wearing masks can reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but it can also reduce the quality of communication between people.
As a speech and language therapist, I am concerned about the adverse effects of wearing masks on communication with young children.
Language and communication skills develop immensely throughout the first 6 years of life. Thus, we must do our best to find ways of communicating effectively with our children when wearing a mask. We must also make sure that we do not slow their language development down by taking away their communication opportunities.
Masks affect communication negatively. With the introduction of masks in our everyday lives, the lower half our faces are often invisible. Information we can reveal through our mouths has diminished. When communicating with people wearing masks, children are not able to lip-read. Moreover, they can have a hard time reading emotions too.
Image by Brian Wangenheim
Why is seeing facial expressions so important for infants and small children?
Right after birth, babies start preferring face-like stimuli over the others. During the first year of life, they continue to pay attention to faces more and more. Over time, they start differentiating familiar faces. Around 6 months, infants can recognize their mothers’ faces. Apparently, the faces they attend the most are the faces that they learn from the most. Can you see a connection here?
Babies also develop social skills through watching faces. A study showed that increased attention to faces as at 7 months old was related to social skills, such as helping behaviors at age 2. This is very nice because it means that watching faces help babies develop empathy too.
Why is watching someone’s mouth important for children (and adults too)?
From infancy to preschool years, children focus on different facial features. One study found that 5-month-olds focused more on the eyes but children up to 5 years of age paid attention to people’s mouths more.
It is safe to say that our eyes, mouth, and facial motions altogether are important for the development of the little ones.
As an adult, it can sometimes be difficult for me to understand a person behind a mask. How to expect children to do it? Some masks have a transparent window in front of the mouth. I love them. But not everyone owns one of those.
10 ways to talk to your child to improve communication while wearing a mask
Since your child will not be able to see your face when you are out and about, let’s make the best out of this situation.
Communication is not only limited to words and sounds coming from the month.
Using some of the methods I talk about here will help you to communicate with your child better. So, use them when you are not wearing a mask or in the future when the pandemic is over too (let’s keep our hopes up :)).
Why? Because you will;
- use your body language more
- become more aware of how you use your words
- make use of some visual aids to help your child to understand you better
- train your child to understand feelings and emotions in different ways.
- get used to talking in a calm and clear way.
1. Take a moment to think about what and how you will say before talking
While wearing a mask, take a moment to think about what and how you will say something to your child because you have to prepare for the next steps.
If you take a moment to stop and think about what you will say, it will give you some time to prepare. So you will say it in the best way possible for your child to understand you.
2. Speak when there is no background noise
Before you start speaking, make sure that there is not much background noise. When you are wearing a mask, you might want to give instructions, tell a short story, or talk about something important.
Wait a little bit until the distracting noise is over, if you can.
3. Attract your child’s attention first
Call your child’s name or attract your child’s attention so that s/he looking at you and ready to hear what you have to say.
Improving this skill will help your child listen to you and understand you better in the future too.
4. Take a deep breath before talking and use your breath to increase the volume
You should speak louder than before behind a mask. Don’t hurt your throat and harm your vocal cords by screaming all the time.
Try to take a deep breath instead. That will help you to use the power of your exhalation and turn your volume up a little bit.
Image by David Veksler
5. Speak slowly, clearly, and calmly
Don’t rush when you talk. Speak slowly, clearly, and calmly to make your child understand you. If your child does not seem to understand what you just said, repeat it with a calm, clear, and slow manner again.
Which brings us to…
6. Use short and simple sentences and pause
Do not expect your child to understand everything you say in a long sentence. Try to use short sentences when you have a mask and pause between two sentences for your child process information.
In normal circumstances, using a bit more complex language than your child’s level is a useful strategy to improve your child’s language skills. But, it is more important to be able to communicate and understand each other while wearing a mask.
7. Use your eyebrows, eyes, and head to express yourself
Children pay attention to different parts of your face as they grow up. It is not only your mouth. They receive a lot of information from your eyes too!
So, why not make your eyes and eyebrows more expressive? You can convey a lot of information about your emotions through the upper part of your face.
Happy, sad, angry, excited, surprised… Use them and make even bigger faces.
8. Use a lot of body language
We know that our faces are not the only way we communicate with the world. We can also use our bodies! How awesome is that? Use as much body language as possible: Your arms, hands, legs.
Making big moves is very good for attracting children’s attention. I promise you, you will be the pantomime master soon, and your child will enjoy this a lot and will be very entertained!
Doing this will also improve your child’s pretend play skills.
- Thirsty? Pretend like drinking water
- Hungry? Pretend like eating food
- Tired and sleepy? Pretend like sleeping and snoring.
You and your child can create your own body language for certain things too. Wouldn’t this improve your communication immensely?
9. Point at and use objects
Use objects as much as you can when you talk about something specific. You can either hold something or point at something. You can also use pictures of some objects to enhance communication.
Here are some ideas for you:
- Point at a car, a cat, or a tree when you talk about one of them.
- Hold your bag and lift it up bit if you are talking about the bag or something in the bag.
- Have pictures of the food your child likes with you so that you can point at them if you want to ask your child about what to eat.
- Point at yourself when you are talking about yourself and point at your child when you are talking about your child.
10. Ask your child!
You did all these one by one. But you are still not sure if your child has understood you clearly. Why don’t you ask?
Your child can give you a thumbs up if s/he understands you and a thumbs down if s/he does not understand you. That would also improve non-verbal communication between you and your child.
Want to know how to improve your child’s language skills anytime with these fun and easy speech therapy methods? Download the free guide now.
Buket Oztekin has an M.A. in speech and language therapy and a Ph.D. in linguistics. She works with bilingual children and investigates their language development. She coaches parents of bilingual children and connects them with other parents to spread knowledge and experience. Her goal with creating LingoBalance is to turn what the research says into bitesize information and activities for parents to use with their kiddos anytime, anywhere.