POLAND, Ohio (WKBN) – It has been two years since schools were turned upside down because of the pandemic. A lot of schools now have lifted their mask mandates. But for young kids, wearing masks and social distancing is all they’ve known at school, making it a weird transition. Today, we spoke with a Poland Schools principal and school counselor about how kids are handling it and how you can help your kids ease back into a life without masks.

Poland Schools dropped its mask mandate back in the first quarter of the school year. Walking the halls, now, after months of masks being optional, several students still have them on.

“If kids wear them even now and we have some staff members still wearing them, it’s respected and it’s appreciated that they have the choice to do so,” said Poland Middle School Principal David Purins.

For some, it’s a family choice, for others, it’s a personal one. Nonetheless, it’s a transition the kids are making and it may be a slow one.

“I always say meet them where they’re at. So if they are feeling if their comfort level is, right now, I want to continue to wear my mask, then I would. I would say, go ahead and honor their comfort zone,” said school counselor Wendy Butch.

If your child is worried for a long period of time about taking their mask off, you can work with them to ease that.

“Ask them, you know, how, what makes you, what else could help you feel more comfortable or what could be helpful so you’re not wearing your mask?” Butch said.

For kids in the second grade or younger, until fall, they had never been in a classroom without masks or social distancing, and it has taken a toll on their growth.

“They don’t recognize social cues as much. So like, facial, being able to know when somebody is feeling sad, happy, upset, mad,” Butch said.

Because of this, she adds many kids are about one to two years behind socially and emotionally.

“So we have, you know, sixth graders who possibly are acting more like what we would see typical for fourth graders, fourth graders acting more like second graders,” Butch said.

The school has put programs in place to help get kids back up to speed in those areas.

“We’ve had our school counselor working with student teachers on a PBIS approach, positive behavior intervention supports. They’ve been coming up with classroom goals and the students are helping those teachers, and students develop behavior expectations for the classroom,” Purins said.

The takeaway? Patience is key.

“Our kids are our number one priority, just not for parents, but us educators as well. So, you know, we’ve talked about giving grace and just being patient with where people are at in the process,” Butch said.

They also said the students have been very respectful of their classmates’ choices to wear a mask or not, and that once social distancing backed off, kids were eager to be close to one another and their teachers. As for the long term, it’s too early to tell if the time we’ve had with masks affected those social skills.