Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been several news reports about parents being kicked out of shops or even flights because their children were not wearing a mask. Generally, all shops, offices and indoor public places require visitors to wear a mask before entering the facility.
As it seems very likely that the mask mandate will continue in the near future, parents should get their children used to wearing a mask to avoid inconvenience and embarrassment, as well as to protect them from COVID-19. Below are some tips which you may find useful.
1. Be honest, supportive and be the role model
Wearing masks is the new normal for all of us. While most adults only find it slightly inconvenient and uncomfortable, children can easily be upset by it. If your child is confused by mask-wearing, be honest with her and explain in simple language why people need to wear a mask.
For children under the age of three, answer questions they may have by using language they understand. Explain that sometimes people need to wear a mask to stay healthy. For older children, try to explain that there are some bad germs which can make them sick and wearing a mask can keep them at bay.
Remember it is normal that children may feel confused or anxious. They may even throw a tantrum when asked to wear a mask. Be supportive and accept their reactions with patience.
To help children get used to wearing a mask, parents should be their role models. Children often feel more comfortable wearing a mask if they see their close family members wear one too. Start by showing your child how to wear a mask correctly and observe her reaction. Explain that it is the rule now for everyone to wear a mask when they leave home, just like it is the rule to put on shoes when going out to the store. Be consistent with mask wearing each time you head out. Eventually children will adapt to this new normal.
2. Teach children the science behind mask-wearing
Explain to your child why it is important to wear a mask. Some children are eager to learn the reasons behind the rules. After they understand why you want her to wear a mask, your child may be more willing to do so.
Use age-appropriate language to explain to your child. Simple explanations such as “we wear masks to protect other people from our germs and other people wear masks to protect us from their germs”, “we wear masks to block out the virus” or “wearing a mask will help us and other people stay healthy ” may be good enough for younger children. If your child seems scared about the idea of wearing a mask, try making the explanation positive and focus on the fact that “wearing a mask can protect other people” instead of what may happen if she does not wear a mask.
3. Teach your child how to put on and take masks off and make it fun!
In addition to teaching children how to put on and take off a mask by example, parents can also use visuals such as pictures, social stories and videos to help children learn the correct way to wear a mask. Some children learn new things quicker through videos with funny characters or songs. There are many free online videos on YouTube that teach children how to wear a mask or keep social distance. Parents are encouraged to watch these videos with their children and explain along the way.
It may also be a good idea to make your own teaching material by taking step-by-step pictures of yourself wearing a mask properly. Remind your child every now and then that masks should always cover the nose and mouth and that she should avoid touching her mask after putting it on.
4. Practice through play and get your child prepared
Modeling the right behavior, practice and repetition are crucial for the development of a new habit. It may take plenty of time and practice for your child to get used to wearing a mask in public so it is better to get your child ready and comfortable with this new habit at home first.
You can start by wearing a mask in front of your child and encourage her to do the same. It may also be helpful to put masks on your child’s favorite dolls, characters or stuffed animals to show her that it is not scary at all. Try associating positive and fun things when your child put on a mask. For example, take your child to the mirror and praise her for how good she looks to build her confidence. You can even take pictures or selfies with her to make it like a game.
If your child likes drawing, you can play a drawing game with her to draw face masks on pictures of characters, superheroes even, in a coloring book or to color pictures of people wearing masks.
Make clear rules for your child about when and where she is expected to wear a mask. Use visuals such as pictures and videos as reminders. You can also consider offering your child small rewards every time she makes progress. Tell your child what to expect and go through the rules for mask wearing before taking her out in a public setting. For example, if you are taking her to a medical appointment, explain to her the night before that she will need to wear a mask. Show your child pictures of doctors and nurses wearing masks so she feels less anxious.
Take your child out on short trips for practice before going out for longer ones. After the little one gets used to wearing a mask for a short period of time at home, you can take her to nearby shops or other local public indoor areas for more practice. If she takes off her mask during the trip, just tell her that she needs to put it back on. Leave the place and go home if your child refuses to cooperate.
Note that younger children may need breaks from wearing a mask, so make sure your child knows that it is fine to have breaks. You can give your child a break by taking her outdoors and away from the crowd. For example, leave the store and go back into your car for a few minutes, if needed.
Some children may need more time and practice before they get used to wearing a mask. Do not force your child to wear one if she rips it off constantly. Forcing the mask on your child will only lead to resentment and rebellion. Always remember to be patient with your child and give her plenty of time to adjust and adapt.
5. Find a mask that your child wants to wear
Let your child choose the mask she likes. Having a choice is an empowering experience and children may be more willing to wear a mask with their favorite color, character or pattern. You can also try making your own cloth masks at home and let your child help with the decoration. It should be noted that decorating a cloth mask is fine if the integrity of the mask is not affected. Disposable surgical masks, however, should not be decorated or drawn on.
Let your child try out different brands of masks because the size, design and shape of different brands can differ significantly. Finding the one that is the most comfortable for your child can create a world of difference. You may even want to try some creative options, such as face mask extenders or headband with buttons which affix to ear loops to make it more comfortable for your child.
Remember the rule of thumb is that the mask should be large enough to cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of the face. If the mask is too large for your child, make knots on the ear loops or simply find a size that fits better.
Training young children to wear a mask correctly can be challenging. Sometimes even adults cannot resist the temptation to rip off their masks whenever they can, let alone training young children to wear one for an extended period of time. Some children may face more difficulties in the process, so parents should be as patient and supportive as they can. Try to remain calm if your child does not cooperate because it is completely normal! The key is taking it slow, setting an example with your own behavior and making it fun. Eventually your child will start wearing a mask without fuss.
- Making Masks Fun: Tips for Helping Your Child Wear a Face Mask