Top 6 Tips to Make Children Wear Face Masks
The guidance around face masks for children hasn’t always been clear since the COVID-19 pandemic began. At various points, we were all hearing that only children over 12 needed to wear masks. Other times, it was children over 5 that needed to cover their faces while in public. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that children as young as 2 years old wear protective facial coverings in public settings.
Obviously this is challenging enough in itself. Anyone who’s met a 2-year-old knows that their keeping baby diapers, accessories, or articles of clothing on is never a guarantee. So how can we parents — who know firsthand the discomfort accompanying mask-wearing — ensure our kids keep them on when they head out the door? Here are some tips parents are sharing around how to gently enforce their children’s face mask habits:
1. Practice Fitting and Wearing Masks at Home
This is a pretty crucial step in getting your child acquainted with the look and feel of a facial covering. Try on your mask as your children try on theirs, mirroring how to do this quickly and easily. Have your kids practice fitting their masks over their noses and mouths in the mirror, pulling them down to take a sip of water, taking them off and putting them back on so they’re prepared for any mealtimes when you won’t be around.
If your children go to school struggling with how to put on their masks or where their masks are supposed to be on their faces, they may feel ill-equipped and potentially embarrassed among their peers. Practicing at home — just like you do with tying shoes or putting on coats — will give them an “I’ve got this!” boost before they head out amongst their friends.
2.Talk to Your Children About Their Face Masks
Second on our list but of equal importance to our first tip, communication with your kids is critical. This is a confusing time for us adults, so remember that your kids are feeling the impact too — in some ways, even more so. Seeing a bunch of adults walking around in face masks every time they leave the house can be bewildering, not to mention hearing all kinds of conflicting information from peers or news outlets.
Be honest with your children about why they need to wear face masks, using accessible language appropriate for their age. You can say, “Wearing these masks helps keep us (and grandma/grandpa, teacher, friends) safe.” Or, “We all have our own germs, and sometimes when our germs spread to others, it can make them feel sick. Our masks help us all keep our own germs.” Or, “We want to do our part to stop germs from spreading, right?” Try to keep it positive even when mentioning germs. Remember to take time to answer your kids’ questions too, demonstrating that their concerns are valid and heard.
3. Use Children’s Face Masks as an Opportunity for Creative Expression
Many parents have already seen this concept play out favorably in their children’s clothing or accessory choices. Allowing your kiddos to have some agency in what they wear can help them feel empowered. It’s a simple area for parents to relinquish some control (hard as it might be to see their little one pair that tutu with those rain boots again.)
Giving kids the option to pick out their own facial coverings can make the whole thing a little less scary. If you’re using children’s disposable face masks, allow your kids to decorate with non-toxic markers, stickers, or rhinestones. If you’re a whiz with a needle and thread, let your children choose their own fabric, make a few different masks with funky patterns, or embroider their initials for a monogrammed look. Anything you can do to turn the mask into an art project will go a long way in getting your kid comfortable with wearing it.
4. Make Positive Associations With Kids’ Favorite Characters
Finding ways to add the “cool” factor to children’s face masks may also serve parents well when it comes to getting their kids to comply with CDC or school guidelines. If children see that everyone else is wearing masks, including their favorite characters or people, they’re more likely to have more positive associations with mask-wearing.
Point out all the frontline superheroes wearing face masks, like doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Make face masks for a child’s favorite doll or stuffed animal. Draw masks on characters in coloring books. While a pandemic isn’t normal, trying to normalize the preventative measures can set kids’ nerves at ease and prevent fear and anxiety from popping up around mask-wearing time.
5. Show Them Examples of Other Children Wearing Masks
This tip can be effective for kids of all ages. For younger children, showing pictures or videos of other kids wearing masks can create a mental image to normalize and promote this habit. For older children who might be more concerned with what their peers think, showing them other kids in children’s face masks can help speak to the social aspect of mask-wearing. Some kids might even ask to wear masks if they see their friends in them.
It’s a good idea to talk to other parents about their expectations and enforcement of mask-wearing before playdates. As we parents have experienced throughout the pandemic, mixed messages are confusing and leave us feeling lost and less safe. We don’t want this same effect on our kids when they’re given conflicting messages about masks. Stick to your guns about what your household is doing, regardless of what other parents are choosing. If you’ve opted to have a social bubble, explain to your kids that they can take their masks off with these particular friends, but still need to wash their hands frequently and try to maintain some distance.
6. Model Mask-Wearing Practices Yourself
This is probably the one parents hear the most feedback about if it’s not done: “But why do I have to wear one if you don’t?” Avoid this conversation with your kiddos altogether — and help stop the spread of this virus — by wearing a mask yourself. The same goes for hand hygiene and social distancing measures; as any parent knows, the “do as I say, not as I do” route tends to backfire, especially with older kids who are honing their critical thinking skills!
When you make mask-wearing a team effort, kids are more likely to feel that they get to be part of something great that’s helping other people. When your kids are (inevitably) sick of wearing the mask, empathize with them while maintaining the importance of the habit. Try a gentle, “I know buddy, the mask can feel uncomfortable. But we can take it off as soon as we get in the car.” Again, maintaining an optimistic tone can help your kids — and you — get through this with just a little less stress and anxiety.
It’s probably better at this point not to make any promises about how long your kids will need to wear their masks. CDC guidance around children’s face masks could change quickly after the start of the school year, or (worst case scenario) this pandemic could go on for longer than we can imagine at this point. So instead of bargaining around only having to wear masks for a little while, which may come back at you during a temper tantrum a few months from now, focus on making the masks a fun project, a fashion accessory, or a way to help other people.