There’s no time like the present to help your child get comfortable wearing a mask! Children older than two years old should wear masks when out in public, and for many children in school this year, masks are required. (Children under two years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone unable to remove their mask without assistance should not wear a mask. Children with certain conditions may require special N95 masks. Ask your pediatrician if this may apply to your child.) There’s a lot you can do to help your child get more comfortable with this new accessory. Here are some tips for how to make it happen.
Normalize wearing a mask
Sometimes masks can be fun for little ones — superheroes wear them, kids get to dress up in them for Halloween. While dress up masks are decidedly different and more fun, that doesn’t mean all masks can’t be fun. It may take a little time for your child to understand that wearing a mask is just something we all do now. Here are a few ways you can normalize it:
- Wear a mask yourself around the house so your little one gets familiar seeing you wear it and so you can model the behavior — when you do something it’s highly likely your little one will soon want to copy you and wear a mask just like you!
- Put your masks on together in front of the mirror so your child can see how it looks.
- Practice wearing masks together around your house. You might play doctor or grocery shopping as you wear your masks — this can be especially helpful if you’ll need to wear masks in those at the doctor’s office or while out running errands together soon. Or just wear them while you do your usual routine at home. And as you do these things, it will be helpful to talk a bit more about this new routine — more on this below.
- Make sure your child has a mask that fits them comfortably — going across their cheeks and over their nose and mouth. Some children might be sensitive to how an elastic feels behind their ears for long periods of time, so you might also want to opt for one that ties behind the head or use a mask accessory that can hold the elastics behind their head and doesn’t need to go around the ears. If your child is dealing with some intense sensory aversion to the mask, your child’s pediatrician can provide further guidance.
Make masks even more appealing
Some kids will feel some hesitation about wearing a mask at first, and this is okay. They might think they’re scary, miss seeing their loved one’s facial expressions and emotional cues, dislike the feeling, or just not be into it for any number of reasons. There are a few different ways you can help the mask feel less yucky and more fun:
- Let your little one hold, touch, and play with their mask so they get more familiar with it as an object. They can even add one to their toys to play around with it — you might see them wear it as they play pretend or put it on a stuffed animal. Find ways to make the mask an everyday object to them.
- Place the mask on a favorite stuffed animal. Or make an extra special, extra tiny mask for a favorite doll. Whatever the size, let your child help put a mask on their favorite friend and then spend some time playing together. If your child’s beloved toy loves wearing their mask, your little one probably won’t be too far behind.
- Show your little one pictures of other kids — friends, cousins, classmates — wearing masks too!
- Wear your masks together and make silly, super expressive faces — there’s a lot that even just your eyes can communicate.
Teach your child how to wear a mask safely
As your child gets more comfortable wearing a mask, you should talk about and teach them how to do so safely. Show them all these steps they can take to keep their masks clean and effective. Share these important steps for wearing and removing a mask safely:
- Wash or sanitize your hands before placing the mask on.
- Place the mask over your mouth and nose, stretching from ear to ear, and secure it behind your ears or head, depending on how the mask loops or ties.
- Once it’s on your face, you should avoid touching it.
- When you take it off, avoid touching the front part of the mask and just touch the ear loops or ties at the back.
- After you remove your mask, wash your hands again.
- And be sure to wash cloth face coverings after each wearing.
Talk about why you’re wearing a mask
Part of helping your little one get comfortable with the mask is helping them understand why it’s important for everyone to wear masks right now. This may be different based on how old your child is:
- For little ones under 3 years old: Answer your child’s questions about mask wearing simply and directly, with language they can understand. For example, if your child asks why everyone needs to wear masks right now, you may want to say that it’s because some people are sick, and that when everyone is better, you won’t need to wear them anymore.
- For bigger kids older than 3: With an older child, you can answer such questions with a little more nuance and talk about germs. You might say, for example, that some germs are bad and can make people sick. And since some people are sick with bad germs right now, wearing masks can keep those germs from spreading and making other people sick.
Kids are incredibly capable
Kids are incredibly capable of learning so many new things. With a little practice, and maybe a little fun, soon enough your child will learn how to wear a mask — and even feel good about doing so.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team.
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- “Cloth Face Coverings for Children During COVID-19.” healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, July 28 2020. Retrieved August 11 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Cloth-Face-Coverings-for-Children-During-COVID-19.aspx.
- “Considerations for Wearing Masks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 7 2020. Retrieved August 11 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html.
- “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Helping Kids Get Used to Masks.” KidsHealth from Nemours. The Nemours Foundation, July 2020. Retrieved August 11 2020. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-masks.html.