Wearing masks is an important way to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. As states open up restaurants, shopping malls and other public places, more and more people are out and about and not necessarily able to keep six feet of physical distance.
Children may also need to wear face coverings if they are going out in public, attending daycare, or going to a summer camp. School-aged kids will likely need to wear them if school buildings re-open in the fall.
It can be a difficult adjustment and a little strange or even scary for a child to put a mask on and to see others wearing them too.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends almost all kids over the age of two years old wear a cloth face covering when they are out in public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Children under two years old should not wear a mask because of suffocation risks.
Why your child should wear a mask
The coronavirus spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, talking, or raising your voice while shouting or singing. A face mask may help capture these infectious droplets and reduce the chances of infecting others if you or your child have the virus with or without symptoms.
Young children should stay home as much as possible and those who are sick (fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea, or vomiting) should not leave the house. However, there will be times when you need to take your child out into the public to go to the doctor’s office, grocery store, or other places. In those instances, a child should wear a mask.
It is important to prepare your children for wearing a face covering. The more knowledge they have, the better chance for success.
Here are 8 tips to help your child wear a mask in public.
1. Make them feel comfortable
Explain – in terms they can understand – why people are wearing face coverings. Give them some time to get used to a world where you may not be able to see all of someone’s face. Answer all their questions and give them comfort and support if they feel cautious. It will help them relax. This holds true not only for kids who are wearing masks but also for those who are too young for a face covering.
Young children may get upset or afraid as they rely on faces for signals whether it is a friendly smile or a familiar look. It can be hard for them to feel safe if they do not get that reassurance. When they do feel safe, they will adapt to what is new and feel less anxious.
2. Prepare them for wearing a mask at home
Wearing a face covering is something new and will take time to get used to. Practice at home before they may need to wear one in public. They should know how to put them on and take them off.
While you are both wearing masks, look in the mirror and talk about it. Look at pictures of other children wearing face coverings.
Your child may be cautious about wearing a mask as it is unfamiliar to them. That is ok and perfectly normal behavior. Do not rush them. Be patient and let them get used to wearing a face covering on their own terms.
3. Explain why they need to wear a mask
Very young children will not understand why they need to wear a mask but toddlers and preschoolers may have some concepts of germs and hygiene that you could talk to them – in terms they grasp – about the important of mask wearing.
Talk about an illness that is going around and how we need to help stop the spread of germs. There are good and bad germs in our bodies. The bad ones can make someone else sick if they leave our body. By wearing a face covering, we can help keep the bad germs from spreading.
Everyone is helping and wearing a face covering is one way to do your part in protecting others. You are being a good helper when you wear a mask and should be proud of it.
Again, give your child a chance to ask questions and provide honest answers.
4. Make a mask together
Help your child decorate their face covering or choose the colors, cloth, or pattern. Does your child like superheroes, dinosaurs, animals, or cars and trucks? Do they have a favorite color?
This will make the mask personal and give them a sense of control. Depending on the face covering’s material, let your kids color on it, or add stickers to it.
You can turn making masks into a fun, family project. There are many no-sew face coverings that are easy to make with materials like a t-shirt or bandana. Make yours in a matching pattern or color and show that we are all in this together.
Here is a quick, no-sew craft project that turns an old t-shirt into a mask.
Face coverings should be comfortable. If your child is constantly touching their face to adjust their mask, it defeats the purpose of wearing one. Use a different style or material.
You may find that pleated masks with elastic may work best for your children. Or try a face covering with ties instead of the elastic that goes around their ears.
5. Have some fun
Wearing a mask introduces role-playing and using your imagination. At home, let your kids be doctors and nurses when they wear their face covering. They can use a play “doctor’s kit” as they tend to a stuffed animal or doll. The “patient” could be wearing a mask too. You and your child could draw pictures of people or their favorite characters wearing face coverings. Or talk about how superheroes wear masks. Dress them up as their favorite superhero with a mask to match. All of this helps make face coverings a normal part of their world.
When you are out in public, find ways to be playful, and help your child giggle or smile. Laughing will help them relax. They could wear their superhero outfit and matching mask when they are out.
6. Wear it the right way
Your child should wash their hands before putting on their face covering. Remind them that their mask needs to cover their nose, mouth, and chin. It should be snug against the sides of their face. Encourage them not to touch their face covering while it is on and to wash their hands if they do. Ask them if they can breathe easily.
If a mask is not working for your child, try using a bandanna or scarf around the mouth and nose.
A face covering should be washed after every time it is worn.
7. Give compliments
After a mask-wearing trip out in the public, tell your child they did great and that you are proud of them. Positive reinforcement – and maybe a small reward – can help them to keep up the good work. Ask them what they thought. How did it feel wearing one? How did it look with everyone else wearing face coverings too? Let them talk about the trip from their perspective. You could even have them draw a picture from your day as a way for them to express their feelings.
8. Include mask-free activities
Not every trip outside of the house requires your child to wear a mask if they can stay at least six feet from other people. They also would need to avoid touching surfaces like playground equipment that could be infected. A nature walk or bike ride can be mask-free activities providing you can maintain the proper physical distance from others. A playground, however, would likely require a mask.
A note about children with special needs
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
- Children who are considered high-risk or severely immunocompromised are encouraged to wear an N95 mask for protection.
- Families of children at higher risk are encouraged to use a standard surgical mask if they are sick to prevent the spread of illness to others.
- Children with severe cognitive or respiratory impairments may have a hard time tolerating a cloth face covering. For these children, special precautions may be needed.
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