If your child is getting ready to return to in-person classes soon, they may be required to wear a mask for most of the school day. This may be part of new safety protocols that include rules about physical distancing and hand sanitization. Change can be difficult for children to adjust to, and it may take some extra effort on your part to get your child to comply with mask requirements.
“I think the first thing will be that kids don’t want to wear the mask,” said Samina Yousuf, MD, a pediatrician at OSF Medical Group – Pediatrics in Bloomington, Illinois. “The second thing will be that they won’t understand why they have to wear the mask all day. The third thing will be that they don’t understand that they shouldn’t actually be touching their face and touching the outside of the mask, because it’s potentially contaminated. So I think that these will be the big obstacles.”
So, what does Dr. Yousuf suggest to help your child adjust?
Empower your child
“Whenever we can give them independence and control, I think they feel good about it, and another way that parents can give them control is maybe they could have a few different masks,” Dr. Yousuf said. “They could choose which one they want to have for that day. If they have a grandma or a mom who sews, maybe they could pick out some fabric, or they could put some sort of a little decal on there to make it their own, and that could be a talking point.”
The opportunity to personalize their masks not only gives your child some control over their circumstances, it’s also fun.
“I often do that when my patients come in, and we talk about how you can express your individuality with your mask,” Dr. Yousuf said. “I think that buy-in would be really important for them, to do that before school starts.”
Lead by example
“The best way children learn – most children who are typical learners – is by seeing,” Dr. Yousuf said. “If they see their parents wearing a mask, then they will think it’s okay for them to wear a mask, too.”
One way to help normalize wearing a mask for your child is to wear one yourself. Wear a mask whenever you go out, certainly, but also consider wearing it around the house. Tell your child you are wearing it to get used to it.
“Say, ‘Well, I’m just getting used to wearing my mask, because I think I’m going to have to wear it at work, so I just want to feel comfortable. I want to make sure it’s not pinching, it’s not pulling my ears and that it’s comfortable and I feel okay breathing in it.’”
It should also help to ease your child into wearing the mask for longer periods. Dr. Yousuf suggests having your child wear their mask for gradually longer stretches. You could use a sticker chart or tokens or any form of positive reinforcement.
You could also help your child make masks for their dolls or stuffed toys to join in the fun and wear, too.
Find a good fit
“It is a very big expectation to expect that children will wear a mask for the whole day, and so with that expectation being set, it definitely has to be comfortable,” Dr. Yousuf said. “So you may have to go through a couple of different styles, different sizes, to actually arrive at that point. And you don’t want to be having those struggles on the first day of school or every day in the morning on the first week.”
Teach them proper mask handling
Before returning to school, your child should be practiced and able to properly put on and remove their mask. That means handling the mask solely by the earloops or ties and never touching the outside of the mask. When taken off, the mask should be folded in half and placed somewhere safe. Both before and after every time they handle the mask, they should also sanitize their hands.
This is a lot to remember, so you should begin educating your child as soon as possible.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Dr. Yousuf said. “It’s a very high expectation to have, especially of our little kids, and also our teenagers, who are kind of in their own world.”
Also, since masks should be washed before being worn again, you should have at least one mask for every day of the week for your child and they should probably have at least one extra mask on them at all times while at school, just in case something should happen to the first one.
Your child’s pediatrician is a great resource and you should contact them if you have questions.