UH pediatrician weighs in on whether caregivers in face masks could have a negative impact on a child's development

Posted at 8:00 AM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 18:23:11-04

CLEVELAND — As more little ones return to childcare or start preschool, we're helping ease parents’ concerns about face coverings and a child's development. We asked a pediatrician at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center if interacting with caregivers who have half their face covered could impact a young child.

Early on, children—especially babies—do a lot of their learning by looking at faces. Particularly, as they're learning to talk, said Dr. Marie Clark, who is a child developmental-behavioral pediatrician at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. She said they're watching lip movements and understanding how that coordination works so they can do it too.

Doctor Clark said a lot of important expression happens above the mouth a well.

"For example, our eyes are so expressive," she said. "Our foreheads. Our eyebrows. They all contribute so much to that facial expression that's also part of that language and social-emotional learning that young children do. It's not as if they're being completely deprived. They're still getting interaction with those caretakers who may be wearing a mask."

Doctor Clark says safety first. Right now, wearing a face covering is one of the most important ways we can protect each other from the coronavirus.

She says caregivers of small children may want to be more exuberant with their expressions and voice when wearing a face mask but says parents shouldn't worry about a negative impact on their child's development.

"And I think there's research out there to suggest it's not something that is going to be detrimental long term," said Dr. Clark. "There's studies of visual-impaired children who show that they go on to develop really wonderful language and emotional skills despite that lack of being able to get the visual feedback from looking at other faces. So, I think that should be very reassuring to us."

The struggle with work-life balance is real, and Dr. Clark says parents are often too hard on themselves. She says it's important to remember that the time your child spends with you is the most precious and impactful to their development.

"And they're going to get so much social, emotional, and language learning from that time their parents are spending with them," said Dr. Clark.

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