Protect Grandpa & Teacher: What You Model Matters

As children across the country are taken to once familiar family homes for the holidays, as they face the questions of going back to in-person learning once the new year arrives, teachers and school staff become more concerned. Not only will they have to face a classroom of children who have not been quarantined, but alongside their regularly demanding jobs they will be facing the task of getting students to comply with COVID-19 safety measures.  

This includes wearing masks, which somehow continues to be a largely debated issue, despite countless studies that prove face coverings help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Many of those contesting the effectiveness of masks are parents who have children who will need to follow guidelines set by school districts and the CDC in order to participate.  

Jennifer Hoskins-Tomko, LCSW, a psychotherapist located in Juniper, Fla., told Healthline that children look to their parents for guidance on how to respond to safety guidelines. “If parents approach it by rolling their eyes and complaining, kids will pick up on those cues and be more resistant to wearing a mask themselves” she said, adding that the opposite is true as well. Parents who model good safety procedures will be encouraging their children to do the same, just by setting a good example.  

“Parents are incredible models for their children, especially young children,” said Caroline Hexdall, PhD, a family psychologist. “Often kids are watching when we may not know it.” Children between the ages of three and 12 are the most easily influenced, but she added that “even adolescents still look to their parents for making decisions. They may form their ideas and personal feelings around those decisions but often parents are consulted first.” 

This all matters because children who have been taught to not be concerned about safety regulations can possibly face large amounts of stress when returning to in-person learning. Bryan Truang, a former Arizona public school teacher, told Healthline “I can usually tell the political, religious, and economic ideologies of a child’s parents by listening and watching the student. It’s the same with views on social distancing, wearing masks, and other medical protocols recommended by health officials. If you’re a parent and you complain about wearing a mask, your kid will too.”  

Not only can this cause significant disruptions and disagreements in the classroom, but it can also cause issues between parents and children at home. 

“If I enforce policies like wearing a mask and handwashing with a student, but you as their parent do not, I’m essentially in a position where I’m challenging you and, as a result, the faith and trust that student puts in you,” Truang said. “This can cause confusion and anxiety for a child, since their teacher’s and their parent’s rules don’t add up, and more anxiety is the last thing any child needs now.  

The Corvallis School District continues to look at statistics about the spread of COVID as they decide whether or not to reopen, although they may not be considering how parents are modeling best precautionary behaviors.  

In-order for children to transition seamlessly into school again, it’s important for parents to help them embrace the new regulations. Hoskins-Tomko says the best way is to sit down with your children and have an honest, age-appropriate discussion about safety protocols. “It’s alright to admit that it’s uncomfortable and that you wish you didn’t have to wear a mask, but remind your kids that it is hopefully only temporary and it is for their own benefits and for the protection of others.”   

It’s okay to still be figuring this all out, but parents can begin to shift the conversation surrounding health regulations, and ultimately help their kids be safer this holidays season and more successful at school and in the community.  

Hexdall quoted Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better, when you know better, do better.”   

By Kyra Young