If you are a parent of a young child during the pandemic, you know firsthand how hard it can be to explain what is going on and why your child must wear a face covering when in public places or around people outside of your household. I’m sure many of you have felt like giving up on having your little ones mask up.
As a parent myself, I recognize that teaching children the importance of wearing a mask has its challenges. Still, I’m here to tell you that even if your child is struggling with this new directive, you can do it! It’s just going to take time and persistence.
Current CDC guidelines state that anyone able to wear a mask, excluding children under 12 months of age, should do so in order to keep each other safe. Those 1 to 2 years of age should be closely monitored as they may be too young to remove their own mask if they have difficulty breathing.
As a mother and a physician who sees many parents struggling when it comes to teaching their young children why and how to wear their masks, I’ve come up with a few teaching methods for getting kids to wear masks:
Get them excited about it.
I’ve found that kids respond well to masks featuring their favorite cartoon characters or other designs that excite them. By providing your child with different choices in terms of the color, shapes, styles and features on the mask, you can turn something that is foreign and uncomfortable into something exciting and actually fun. Many children love to look like Spiderman or Minnie Mouse; if their mask gives them an opportunity to “become” their favorite characters, your child is more likely to wear it. Parents should also express their own enthusiasm for masking up when around their kids to serve as an example that hopefully gets followed.
Take mask-wearing in steps.
I’m hearing from many parents that their child is willing to try on the mask, but that they can only keep it on for a few seconds before they get bored and take it off. Parents should take the time to work with their child on wearing a mask for short periods of time to start and then graduate to longer periods of mask wearing. Try doing a countdown with your kids, distract them by playing their favorite video or giving them their favorite toy. Provide praise and positive attention when they keep the mask on. Do this until your child is able to keep the mask on for the time needed to run an errand in public or other activities you’d like to enjoy with your family.
Read stories with your child that include mask-wearing characters.
For children who are having a really hard time tolerating wearing a mask, consider reading books to them about the topic. Book characters might go into the steps of putting on a mask or its importance to protect one’s health and those around them. Hearing and seeing these behaviors in a child-friendly format might resonate with your child, helping them better understand why mask-wearing is so important.
Don’t give up on getting kids to wear masks!
It will take time to get your child used to wearing a mask. Continue to employ these steps and your efforts will pay off. If your child is still having trouble after trying some of the advice above, and you absolutely have to leave your home, you might consider a face shield. Although a mask is the best way to keep your child and others safe, a face shield is a good option for parents of kids who might be more sensitive to touch or having things touching their faces. In these cases, a shield can be a good introduction in teaching your child to wear a mask later on.
Good luck – and wear a mask WA!