“With the beginning of the new school year, a number of measures have been introduced concerning schools, but the one that has been talked about the most is the obligation to wear masks for all students from the fifth grade onwards. This decision is valid in cases when the distance in the classroom cannot be achieved (one and a half meters from the 5th to the 8th grade of primary school and 2 meters for secondary schools), but it is clear that this cannot be achieved in a significant number of schools so is the obligation to wear masks widespread among schoolchildren. Not everyone accepted it with approval”, writes journalist Davor Tomšić in an article entitled “Masks in schools – more harm or benefit!”, published on Index.hr on September 13, 2020. The expert interlocutor in the article on behalf of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center was psychologist Krešimir Prijatelj:


“Child psychologist Krešimir Prijatelj from the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center tells us about the reactions of children to the first week of wearing masks in schools.


“With perhaps the most specific start of the school year so far, we have the opportunity to hear from children about various experiences of wearing face masks – some children have no problem wearing masks at all because mask give them an extra sense of security and control, while other children masks feel confused, anxious or scared, mainly because they do not see the facial expressions of their friends and teachers, interfere with communication, and for some wearing masks can create a feeling that the world itself is not a safe place” says the psychologist.


We asked him if wearing masks is something that children easily adapt to or something that causes them some discomfort, stress or something else.

“Children will think about masks similarly to parents”

“It should be borne in mind that children, as in most other situations, will think about protective masks in a similar way as their parents or guardians, which of course could depend on their adaptation to wearing protective masks, or the amount of resistance to them. It would be useful for parents to introduce children to the positive aspects of protective face masks as soon as possible, in a safe and child-friendly environment, to explain how to put on and take off the mask without touching the face with their hands as little as possible. For a number of children, regardless of their parents’ attitudes, the very idea of ​​wearing a mask can be repulsive because the mask “squeezes” them behind their ears or scratches and tickles their face, which can create a feeling of discomfort and irritability that could persist in certain circumstances, lead to frustration or potential stress. In such situations, it is important to try to find or make a mask that will adequately fit the child’s face without drooping or itching or squeezing because it will make them feel less, less likely to want to take it off face and touch face less. It is also useful to allow children to choose the color or decoration on the mask they will wear, thus gaining a sense of control and autonomy in this situation”, says psychologist Krešimir Prijatelj.


He adds that it is too early to assess the first effects of wearing masks in schools and that some schools do not report problems, while others have problems.

“It is now more challenging for children to have social contact with peers, but they are aware of the positive implications of wearing masks”

“It is necessary to wait for a certain period of adjustment to the new conditions to pass and then check first hand with teachers and professional associates what the situation is like in schools. Currently, some schools state that they do not have problems with new measures and recommendations, and in others there are certain difficulties around wearing masks. The health crisis is a big test for us adults, and the way children and young people will react and behave largely depends on our reactions and the way we communicate with them. It can be really hard for children not to see the facial expressions of other children in the class, especially when it comes to the smiles of friends and teachers, and some may complain that they don’t understand very well when other students tell them something that can confuse them, when wearing protective masks, it is usually the most challenging aspect of achieving social relationships with peers. The positive implications of wearing masks are generally aware of a large number of children, who have indeed passed the empathy test in this pandemic. Namely, they mostly state that they wear masks not only to protect themselves but also their loved ones, mostly grandparents, but also friends who have been ill before” says the child psychologist.


Which is the biggest problem for children?

He adds that one of the problems in the context of wearing masks in children, which is the most talked about, mainly concerns insufficient information about the correct placement and removal of the protective mask and frequent touching of the mask with fingers, which reduces its protective role. He says that some children will not easily adapt to the new conditions and that they need patience for that.

“Children and young people need the most that adults in their lives, that is, with parents and teachers and professors, have patience and understand them. Namely, some children cannot get used to the new conditions in one day and this is normal. Children generally did not have the experience of wearing protective masks and that is why it is important to keep in mind that wearing masks can be challenging for some students and try to do everything in our power to make their adjustment period easier” emphasizes Prijatelj.

“It is important not to panic, this will pass like all other challenges in life”


He has a message for all students and parents in a new situation.

“First of all, it is important not to panic. Namely, if we adults act as if we are doing everything in our power to stay healthy and protect others, children will also accept it. It is easiest for children to accept and adopt certain rules if they see that they are followed by adults, especially members of their immediate family. In addition to setting a positive example for children, it is important to be honest, optimistic and show understanding for their feelings and fears when leaving or returning to school. I think that today’s students are very brave and do not lack empathy, which I think should be made known more often, and in addition to children and adults I would say that this challenging situation will still teach us the importance of certain life values, and above all empathy, solidarity and care for each other, and that they will pass just like other challenges in our lives, maybe not tomorrow or next month, but they will pass” concludes the psychologist.”


Read the full text on Croatian language on Index.hr at the link: https://www.index.hr/vijesti/clanak/maske-u-skolama-vise-stete-ili-koristi/2211917.aspx?index_vid=1504


Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   

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