With holiday parades come lots of costumed characters, including often our own University of Vermont Children’s Hospital mascot Monty the Moose. And parents have certainly not been masking their questions in regard to how to help their toddler or preschooler overcome their fear of costumed characters and mascots. Well, let me try to remove those fears with some suggestions on this topic.
Masklophobia, or fear of masks, is a real fear. It occurs as a normal phase of a young child’s development, given a toddler’s developing mind and growing imagination and an inability to separate fantasy from reality In addition, a toddler’s small size in a large world can be scary when approached by an oversize costumed character. Usually, that fear is one that children will grow out of before they reach school age.
But at a time when young children are told not to talk to strangers, you can imagine their confusion when confronted with a strange, large character who is trying to approach them much to their fear and surprise.
So what do I recommend? If the fear is real, don’t tease your child about it, but simply be supportive and let your child know that you understand and it is okay to be afraid of costumed characters. If this is the case, please don’t force a close encounter with the costumed kind: the photo-op is not worth it if your child is too anxious.
If you do plan to meet with a character, make sure it is one that your child knows well. And if you can, try to let the character know of the fear in advance. This way, they can avoid contact or only wave to your child from afar until the child is more comfortable and wants to get closer.
Another suggestion is to play with masks at home in advance so your child understands that the mask is just a costume – and there is another real person inside the costume. Often the key to success is to have your child watch other children interact with a costumed character or have a parent go first to say hi to the mascot or get a picture taken.
Be patient. This phase will likely pass. And if it doesn’t, then additional strategies from your child’s health care professional may be in order to make your child less anxious in this situation.
Hopefully tips like this will unmask any concerns you have when it comes to helping your toddler overcome their fear of costumed characters and mascots.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.