The good news is that parents can take action to compensate.
My daughter’s friend was recently alarmed when she was told that her two-year-old must wear a mask in preschool. Her little girl already struggles to make herself understood, and her mother worries that the mask will make it harder for her daughter to be understood and that she will have trouble telling what her masked peers and teachers are saying.
Now that the face mask has become the essential accoutrement of our lives, the COVID pandemic has laid bare our fundamental need to see whole faces. Could it be that babies and young children, who must learn the meaning of the myriad communicative signals normally available in their social partners’ faces, are especially vulnerable to their degradation in partially visible faces?
Faces are a complex and rich source of social, emotional and linguistic signals. We rely on all of these signals to communicate with one another through a complex and dynamic dance that depends on each partner being able to read the other’s signals. Interestingly, even when we can see whole faces, we often have trouble telling what other people are feeling. For instance, as the psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett has noted, we can interpret a smile as meaning “I’m happy,” “I like you” or “I’m embarrassed”. So, seeing partially visible faces robs us of a plethora of linguistic signals that are essential for communication….[ ]