By Yuliya Bilan Yu, MSN, CRNP
Current guidelines recommend that all children ages 2 and older wear a mask at school or daycare, or when indoors in other public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a parent of two young children, I understand that it can sometimes be a challenge to get your little one to put on a mask and consistently keep in on. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to make this process a little easier.
Involve your child in making or selecting their mask and make sure it fits comfortably
Your child might be more likely to wear a mask if it has their favorite color, character, or special interest on it. There are many sites online, such as oldnavy.com and etsy.com that sell children’s masks with different patterns. To make the mask more comfortable, especially when wearing it several hours each day at school, consider getting face mask extenders or ear savers. These put pressure on the back of the head instead of on the back of the ears. Another option is using a headband with buttons that the mask attaches on. When choosing a mask, make sure that it fits snugly around the mouth and nose. Gaiters used to be recommended as a comfortable alternative for kids; however, new research shows that gaiters are not as effective in stopping the spread of disease.
Prepare your child for wearing a mask
Consistently keeping a mask on may take repeated preparation and practice.
Talk to your child why it is important to wear a mask and try to make the explanation positive. For example, you might say “Masks help keep us safe from the virus. When we wear a mask, the virus can’t jump from person to person.” You can also make comparisons to other healthy habits in your daily life that help prevent illness, such as handwashing or wearing weather-appropriate clothes.
Point out to your child how you wear your own mask and watch their reaction. Also note how your child reacts to others wearing a mask. Some children might find strangers wearing a mask a little scary. If this is the case, you can show your child pictures of other people wearing masks and talk about it. This will help them see it as more normal and put them more at ease in different social settings. You can also involve your child’s favorite toys and stuffed animals in wearing a mask. Younger children often appreciate a playful approach to mask wearing.
Once your child is comfortable wearing their mask for a little while, try to extend the time while they are engaged in their favorite activity, such as going for a walk or watching a favorite show. It can take some time to adjust to the longer mask-wearing periods and this is normal. If your child feels anxious or uncomfortable wearing a mask for an extended time, teach them relaxation techniques such as taking deep breaths or relaxing all the muscles in their body. Also encourage them to talk about their feelings and concerns.
Consistency, breaks, and rewards
You might find it helpful to set clear rules for your child about when, where, and why they need to wear a mask. Some children understand this better with visuals, such as pictures or videos. Reviewing the rules each time the family goes out could also work.
Young children often need frequent breaks when wearing a mask. Talking to a child about breaks ahead of time can help them keep the mask on for the expected timeframe. For example, you might say, “We are going to keep our masks on at the store while we get a few grocery items and after that we will go outside and can take off our masks.” Staying well hydrated is also important in preventing illness, so let your child know it is ok to take off their mask to quickly drink some water when feeling thirsty.
For many children, rewards can go a long way in getting them to wear a mask. Let your child know what they can earn for doing a good job in keeping their mask on. You may need to set this up ahead of the outing or bring something with you that could be given as a reward.
For more resources and information on masks, check out: