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Do Face Masks Have a Negative Impact on My Child’s Communication Skills?

The holidays are a time when we spend more time with family and friends. During the pandemic, we have had to find new and unique ways to stay connected whether from a physical distance or virtually.

Reduced face-to-face interactions can interfere with children’s abilities to learn and understand the nonverbal parts of communication. Did you know that up to 70% of our communication is delivered through nonverbal skills such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice? How can we help our little ones understand those subtle communication skills with our masks on or during virtual visits?

Communicating with a facemask 

When wearing a mask, we have to work extra hard to convey our nonverbal communication by conveying messages with our eyes and with gestures and body language. Take time to get down to your child’s level and establish eye contact before speaking. When speaking with friends and family members who are wearing a mask, encourage eye contact, a slightly slower rate of speech and an increased volume to account for the sound muffling caused by the mask.

Speech tips for kids

At home, when you can remove your masks, spend time learning about nonverbal communication by playing with voices while reading stories. Use your voice to demonstrate the emotions of each character. See if your child can pretend to be one of the characters and portray how the character might be feeling with the tone of voice. Talk about how our faces change when we are happy, sad and angry, and see if your child can find someone in the story who looks happy or sad, and talk about why they might be feeling that way. 

Children’s speech and virtual calls

Virtual conversations with family and friends can be overwhelming for children, especially when there are many different faces on the screen at one time. If your child is overwhelmed, consider muting your microphone so that you can point out who is speaking and then turn the microphone back on when you want to contribute to the conversation.  Help your child contribute to virtual visits with grandparents by preparing some ideas or items to share with the grandparents during the visit. Maybe your child would like to show them a craft they have done or tell them about a new book or toy. Grandparents can read a special story to their grandchildren as a way to share holiday traditions at a time when it may not be possible to be together in person. 

We hope that you will enjoy lots of joy and good communication with family and friends during this holiday season!

Elizabeth Skirving, M.S., M.Ed., Reg. CASLPO
Speech-Language Pathologist
Fern Speech and Language Services


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