Helping Kids Wear Masks
by Breanna Callahan, Marketing Coordinator
As more and more businesses are requiring mask wearing, we thought you might be looking for tips on how to make this transition with your kids.
- Children under age two should not wear a mask. If you are out and about with your little one, cover their car seat or stroller with a blanket if you would like to offer them protection.
- Offer your child a simple, age appropriate explanation of what a mask is and why they use it. You may find it helpful to do a web search of kids’ videos of their favorite characters explaining why and how to wear a mask. There are a lot of videos available. Main points to explain are we wear masks to keep others and ourselves safe, and that you can be contagious, able to get others sick, without even knowing it (displaying no symptoms). There are different ways to show how far your breath travels with and without a mask on, including helpful videos on the internet.
- Set a good example by wearing a mask yourself. And don’t complain about it in front of them. If you wear one and have a positive attitude, it will help them to as well.
- Kids enjoy being able to make choices. Let them pick out their mask or even decorate their own mask. There are many different styles and materials masks are made of (though tighter woven cotton or cotton weave fabric is best). You can even make them on your own! There are a lot of patterns and designs on the internet if you want to make your own.
- Ensure the mask fits them comfortably. If they are comfortable in it, they are less likely to touch it, trying to readjust it, and there will be less complaints. Behind their ears is a key place to check, as this is an area that can get especially uncomfortable. Also, watch for skin conditions to pop up as a result of wearing the mask for a long time.
- As I stated earlier, wearing a mask and seeing others in masks can be a scary experience for kids. It may seem frivolous or like you are downplaying the seriousness of the situation, but make mask wearing fun! Let them pretend to be a doctor, nurse, or other superhero (see what I did there?) with their mask on. They could be superheroes saving others while wearing their masks.
- Practice at home. We are not sure what the school year is going to bring, but if children are required to wear masks at school for part or all of the day, they (and their teachers) will appreciate if they are already used to wearing them. Once we find out what the plan is, if it mentions kids wearing masks at school, start preparing them right away.
- Once they become a little more comfortable wearing it, teach them how to wear it properly. You don’t want to overload them with rules right off the bat, which is why I recommend doing it after they find it a little less scary. A few things to remind them (and this goes for adults too):
- Don’t touch the outside of the mask. And if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if that is what is available.
- Wash hands before putting mask on and after taking it off.
- Get them used to not touching or readjusting their mask. Angela Pagenkopf, Infection Preventionist at Southwest Health, offered a fun way to help them with this. Play a “Don’t touch the mask” game where you tell them if they don’t touch their mask, while you try to get them to touch it, they win.
- Show them how their favorite stuffed animal or doll wears masks too! It might make it easier for them to see their best buddy is in this with them.
- Start out by wearing the mask for a shorter period of time and increase gradually. As with anything, kids enjoy positive reinforcement. Make sure to praise their efforts!
In speaking with Jennifer Miller-Kass, Psychotherapist and Director of Southwest Behavioral Services, we are reminded that although COVID-19 has brought about a whole host of unique mental health challenges, face masks and children has its own challenges as well. She brought up a good point about how children are learning about emotions, and one of the main ways they understand emotions is by body language and facial expressions.
Wearing a mask disrupts the ability to read emotions and understand each other without words. Therefore, we need to emphasize the importance of “using our words.” This includes helping them to identify their feelings and telling those they interact with, as well as being able to ask each other, “How are you feeling?” We are generally not comfortable asking that, even as adults, so kids will need to practice this in order to get more comfortable with it. As mentioned above, they will do what they see. So, if you ask more about their feelings and share how you feel, they will be more apt to do the same.
Along with wearing masks, we also want to emphasize it is still important to social distance when possible and avoid large gatherings.
Again, we are not sure what the future holds with COVID, but we know parents are under a lot of stress right now, as are our children (and everyone else). We hope these tips offer you some support and the reassurance that we are truly all in this together.