Children's psychologist discusses how to address mask bullying in school with kids

Posted at 7:23 AM, Aug 20, 2021

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Some school districts have begun a new school year while others are just days away. In addition to sorting out the curriculum yet again, school officials have to address how they're handling masks in the classroom.

Many districts across the country are requiring students to wear masks while inside, while others are making it optional. But with varying policies, some worry this may lead to an uptick in bullying over whether or not a student is wearing a mask.

"Even before kids go to school, talk very clearly at the age your child is, what's comfortable for that age about what your family believes is important and what the school rules are," said. Dr. Vanessa Jensen, a pediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.

She suggested if a mask is required for your child, approach it like it's part of the dress code. As a parent, make sure your child understands that it's a school rule just like the length of a skirt or certain kinds of shirts.

If the school is not requiring a mask but you want your child to wear one, Jensen provided a suggested way to approach the conversation.

"I think it's important to explain to your child why that is again, at the level they can understand," she said. "Whether it's as simple as saying, 'Mom and dad, we believe that it's important for our health. We want to keep you safe. We want to keep us safe.'"

If your child is confronted, Jensen said to have them treat this the same way as having different religious beliefs or rules than another family.

Here's an example of what your child can say if their mask-wearing habits are addressed: "This is what our family has decided is safe for us, and I respect your views," Jensen said. "My family respects your family's ideas and I hope you can respect ours."

Be sure to check in frequently on how school is going, and help them understand you're not going to overreact or confront another student or teacher.

"If you're getting kids saying things like, 'I don't want to get so-and-so in trouble' or 'So-and-so hurt my feelings' or 'So-and-so is being mean to me,' then it's time for more questions."

As a parent, if you have concerns about bullying, contact the school and other parents.

"Connecting and networking without leading to a sense of panic is going to help our kids learn to do the same thing with their peers," Jensen said.

Experts are also reminding parents that the policy does not fall on the teacher. They are simply those who have to enforce whatever rule is implemented by their district.

This story was originally published by Meg Shaw and Nicole DeChant at WEWS.