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What To Do If Your Kid Is A Target Of Face Mask Bullying, According To Experts

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Bullies will look for any reason to taunt their targets, and rule-abiding children have always been their favorite targets. In our current reality, that means there are likely kids out there who will tease your child for doing the right thing and wearing a mask, all in the hopes that they’ll succumb to the peer pressure and take it off while they’re in school. So what can you do when your kid is being bullied to ditch their mask?

“It’s hard enough to cope with bullying during the best of times, but during the age of COVID-19, it’s even harder,” psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, M.D., author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror, tells Romper.

In anticipation of this particular type of bullying causing problems during the school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance for schools on how to handle the issue.

"Stigma, discrimination, or bullying may arise due to wearing or not wearing a cloth face covering. Schools should have a plan to prevent and address harmful or inappropriate behavior. Not all families will agree with school policies about cloth face coverings. Schools should have a plan to address challenges that may arise and refer parents, caregivers, and guardians to CDC’s guidance on cloth face coverings."

Schools should have a plan in place, but you should, too. These expert tips will help you keep you kid safe and happy this year.

1. Offer Reassurance

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While you want your child to understand how important it is to keep their mask on at school, you don't want them to be unreasonably terrified of the consequences should their mask come off for a minute or two. “Parents should tell their kids that it is important to try to keep a mask on while at school, but that if a bully pulls it off them, they are not going to die,” says Dr. Lieberman. Remember: Kids spin tall tales, and a bully's threats are usually particularly exaggerated.

2. Talk To The Teacher

“Parents should also contact the teacher and let them know what is happening,” says Dr. Lieberman. Set up a meeting (either in person or virtual) and explain what’s happening so that the teacher can become a part of the solution. Any type of bullying is not cool, but when it comes to your kiddo taking off their mask in the middle of a pandemic, it's a serious health and safety issue.

3. Advocate For Education

“Ideally, the teacher should be talking to the kids — just like parents should — about why it’s important to wear a mask, why some people don’t want to wear masks, and so on,” says Dr. Lieberman. “Kids should be encouraged to ask everything they always wanted to know about masks — the health and politics and etiquette of masks — from parents as well as their teachers.” Sadly, bullies are often a product of their environment; if a kid is anti-mask, chances are their parents are probably feeling the same way, too. So if this behavior continues, it might be good to suggest to the district (or at the very least, your child’s teacher) that a lesson be given on the merit of masks.

4. Pack Extra Masks

Let's say that a bully takes your child's mask off and it gets damaged. It’s not a bad idea to pack a couple of back-up masks in your kiddo's book bag just in case of an unwanted altercation. It's also just a good idea just in general, since masks can get dirty super fast (think getting sneezed on and dropped on the floor).

5. Contact The Parents

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Addressing the issue through your child's school is ideal, but in the case of a bully, you might need to take matters into your own hands. If the situation isn’t being rectified, you can always reach out to the parents in the hopes of reaching a peaceful resolution.

“If a child and parent are unable to get the teacher to make sure that kids don’t bully others about masks, then parents should try to contact the parents of the bully themselves,” says Dr. Lieberman. “Of course, some parents of the bullies may be against masks, themselves, so it may be more of a challenge than a parent expects.”

6. Help Them Understand Why It’s Happening

Being bullied feels like a personal attack — and for the most part, it is. But at the same time, your kid should know that bullies often act out of their own fear and insecurity. “Kids think they did something wrong or there is something wrong with their specific mask, when in reality bullies tend to pick on things they are either jealous of or are foreign to them,” family therapist Deedee Cummings, M.Ed., LPCC, tells Romper in an email. So educate your child about why we wear masks, and help them try to understand what makes a bully act out.

7. Show Them How To Stand Up For Themselves

Masking up is the right thing to do, and your kid should know that it's okay to defend their right to wear one.

"Your child needs to know that it's perfectly fine to stand up for themselves," says Cummings. "They can say something like, 'I am not bothering you, so why do you care?' Sometimes this will throw a bully off their game because they got a reaction they did not expect to get." By challenging the bully, it will make your child look (and feel) stronger... and hopefully stop the bullying.

8. Model Mask-Wearing

It's hard for kids to feel confident wearing a mask if they don't see their parents doing the same. So always wear your mask when it's appropriate, and be cognizant of what you say about having to put it on; for example, if you complain about wearing one, your child might feel ambiguous about wearing their mask. You can even point out some of their fave celebs wearing masks to show them how everyone is doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Experts:

Dr. Carole Lieberman, M.D., a psychiatrist

Deedee Cummings, M.Ed., LPCC, JD, a lawyer and family therapist