September 28, 2022
Children regulate and learn about themselves and the world in relationships. When they are unsure how to act or respond in a situation, they literally look to us. In an unspoken exchange, their look asks, “am I safe”, or “is this ok”, and our facial expressions give their answer. This is called social referencing, and is a beautiful part of being a trusted adult.
Face masks may create a ‘hiccup’ in this process. So much of our face and our expression are hidden, but our children’s need for this referencing is still there— and perhaps even more so with other masked adults about, and rules for distancing that can be hard for little ones to understand. We have to take extra care to notice when our children are seeking this ‘safety information’ from us, and convey it in mask-possible ways.
We can get low, and make eye contact that also acts as heart contact. We need to ‘unmask’ our emotions— make them clear by exaggerating them, and adding language and gestures so our child understands. If they’re checking in from further away as a “can I do this”, a thumbs up or head shake can sub-in for a smile or frown.
Sometimes we’ll catch the need for our cues from an obvious cue from the child— the searching of our face. We can see this, and respond (especially when we’re really on the lookout for it). Other times, their behaviour might actually be their cue. They might be ‘out of sorts’, upset, or reacting in a big way to something that seems small. What they are really saying is, “things are different right now. I’m not getting the information that I need from you”. Either way, they need us and it’s our cue to up our cues.