Helping Your Child Get Used to Masks
Wearing masks or cloth face coverings is an important way to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our community, but the proposition can be challenging for children – especially younger kids who may see face coverings as strange, uncomfortable or even scary.
The good news is that most children can feel comfortable seeing people in masks – and even wearing masks themselves – with some help from adults they know and trust. Parents and caregivers can help them through this difficult time by doing some basic things, including:
- Explaining to your child why people are wearing masks, in terms they can understand.
- Being a role model for your child, wearing your own mask and being positive about mask-wearing and its role in protecting our community.
- Giving your child time to watch, explore and become comfortable with mask-wearing.
- Answering your child’s questions about mask-wearing.
- Giving your child support when they are having difficulties understanding or accepting why they should wear a mask or face covering.
In particular, toddlers and young children may need extra support and reassurance when wearing masks themselves or when being around other people who are wearing masks. Remember: children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask.
How Will My Child React to Masks?
Every child is different, and their reaction to seeing others in masks – or wearing one themselves – will vary based on a variety of factors.
Some children may embrace wearing a mask, or even be eager to wear one, because the mask reminds them of their favorite superhero. Children may also need a break from wearing their mask from time to time – this is perfectly acceptable. Just find a safe space away from other people before you let them remove their mask. It’s also important to remember to wash your child’s mask every day after it is used.
Others may be anxious or scared because a mask prevents them from recognizing other people or seeing social cues like a friendly smile. This is natural, and you can work with your child to help them feel more comfortable around people in masks in a variety of ways.
How Can I Help My Child Wear a Mask?
If your child is over 2 years old, a mask or face covering is a good way to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Here are some ways to make them comfortable and help them understand why wearing a mask in public is important:
- Be a role model for your child – It’s one thing to explain the concept of masking so your child can understand; it’s another thing to lead by example and show them that you are also doing your part to protect the community. In addition to talking with your child about what masking is and why it is important, be sure they see you wearing a mask and being positive about masking.
- Explain things so they can understand – Children may know about germs, but it can be difficult for them to understand how a mask can help. Try sharing simple phrases like: “this mask will stop germs from getting on someone else when we cough or sneeze.” It may also be helpful to explain that wearing a mask is a rule that everyone must follow right now: “It’s a rule to wear a face mask when we go to visit the doctor.”
- Give them positive motivation – Finding small rewards or other ways to positively reinforce masking and encourage your child to wear their mask properly (so it covers their mouth and nose) can be an effective tool to motivate them and reinforce why masking is an important rule to follow.
- Let them make the mask their own – Activities like decorating their mask or otherwise putting their personal touch on it can help children feel a sense of ownership and control. If they can choose their favorite stickers to put on their mask, or color it in their favorite color, it’s more likely that they will want to wear it.
- Make it a family project – Another good way to give your child a sense of control is to spend time with them, making masks or cloth face coverings together. You can use a no-sew pattern to allow them to make their own, or allow them to pick the fabric or patterns you will use, if you’re sewing masks yourself.
- Help them have fun – Your child’s imagination can help them get over any anxiety the have about mask-wearing, especially if you help them by suggesting they can pretend to be a doctor, nurse, or superhero while wearing their mask. It’s also a good idea to have a couple masks on-hand while your child plays; you can ask them to put a mask on their favorite toy or stuffed animal, and ask questions about why the item is wearing a mask. This is a great way to see if your child has additional questions or confusion about mask-wearing as well.
- If it’s uncomfortable, think of how to help – Some masks pull on your ears in a way that can be uncomfortable or painful, but there are ways to modify them and keep them from producing this discomfort.
We’re Going to the Doctor’s Office. How can I Prepare my Child?
The most important thing to communicate with your child is that the hospital/doctor’s office is a safe place where their health and safety is the top priority. You should also consider sharing the following information with your child:
For older children:
- Tell them what to expect – In-person office visits are much different now than they were before COVID-19. This can produce anxiety, even for older children. Mention masking before your visit, and that everyone will be wearing one in the doctor’s office. Explain it in a way that is simple and calm: “It’s a new thing they’re doing to stop germs.”
- Focus on the positive – Be honest, but focus on the positive impacts of masking rather than the threat posed by COVID-19.
- Let them show their knowledge – School-age children are often excited to demonstrate what they’ve learned, so they will be happy to tell you all the ways they know to stop germs. This can help them feel proud and capable rather than anxious and afraid.
For younger children:
- Validate their reactions – It’s normal for young children to be cautious of things they aren’t familiar with. Let them take their time becoming comfortable with our new normal.
- Offer Comfort when it’s needed – Children will look to you for support, so give it to them: let them sit in your lap, offer reassurances and help they feel safe. A good indication of this is when they start to become more curious and less cautious.
After the visit:
- Get their feedback – Children will tell you what it was like for them if they are asked. Get them talking about how they were feeling and what they were thinking during your doctor’s visit, and then give them praise for how they handled the situation: “It wasn’t easy, but you did great. I’m proud of you.” If it was a tough visit, find a bright spot to make note of, so they come away with something positive despite their struggles.”
- Act it out – If your child is having difficulty speaking about their thoughts or feelings, it can help to give them an alternative way to express themselves. Drawing pictures together, or having a play time are great ways for kids to put their thoughts and feelings into action, and to help you connect with them on topics that they might struggle to talk about.