Mask-wearing is a cultural change for Americans. With new mask mandates, and as we approach a new school year, it’s important for parents to help their children adjust to mask-wearing. Tiffany Pottkotter, MSN, MA, LPCC, APRN, PMHNP-BC, psychiatric nurse practitioner with ProMedica, shares some important tips on how to help your children adjust to mask-wearing.
Should your child wear a mask?
Experts agree to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations and to check for updates as recommendations change according to new scientific research. The CDC’s current recommendations for children include:
- Everyone 2 years and older wear a cloth face covering that covers their nose and mouth in public settings when around people not living in your household, particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- Cloth face coverings should NOT be put on babies or children younger than 2 because of the danger of suffocation. Children younger than 2 years of age are listed as an exception as well as anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.
How to Help Your Child Adjust to a Mask
1. Model a good attitude and set an example.
Wear your own mask and keep a positive attitude. If you are going to the store and want your child to wear a mask, be sure to put yours on first.
“Attitude and role modeling of the parent really affects the majority of a child’s behavior,” explains Pottkotter. “If the parent has a positive approach (even if you don’t agree with it), the child will be more likely follow suit and do the same.”
2. Explain the importance of mask-wearing.
“Kids tend to like superheroes and superheroes wear a mask!” says Pottkotter.
It is important for children to view mask-wearing as fun and important and not a punishment. It is one of the best things they can do to help stop the spread of germs. Children also can understand that we are wearing masks to protect others, just like superheroes protect others.
3. Make sure the mask is the right size.
Children should have masks that fit snugly around the child’s face to prevent less germs from spreading. It should cover the nose to chin and fit comfortably around the ears.
“A fun activity is to have the children pick out fabrics as there are so many to choose from. If you’re a seamstress, you can sit down and sew them but there are easy, no-sew ways to make a mask, too. It can be a fun experiment,” says Pottkotter.
Another tip is to have a different fabric from the front to the back. This helps children distinguish which is the front and which is the back.
4. Teach them how to put on and take off a mask.
“Donning” and “doffing” are typical words in a business where employees put on and remove work-related protective gear. “They can be great vocabulary words to teach kids,” says Pottkotter.
To properly don (put on) a mask:
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
- Touch only the part that wraps around your ears while you secure your mask.
- Gently pull below the chin to adjust the mask to the position covering your nose to your chin.
To properly doff (take off) a mask:
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
- Touch the part behind your ear and remove straight forward.
- Fold the mask in half.
- Put it in a paper bag, labeled with your name.
“You want to teach your kids that masks are just for you and are not to be shared. They should be stored in a safe place,” says Pottkotter
Another tip is to have two bins in your laundry room: one marked for dirty masks and one marked for clean masks. These makes it easy to know which masks are contaminated and which are available for use.
5. Practice wearing masks and gradually increase time.
“It’s so important that we don’t put the burden on teachers to teach your kids how to wear a mask,” says Pottkotter. “They should be familiar and used to wearing them before school begins.”
After teaching the reasons why we wear masks, setting a good example, and showing the proper procedures, it is time to practice. “Maybe just start with wearing them for 10 seconds,” says Pottkotter.
As children adjust to wearing the mask, gradually increase the time. Once they are fairly acclimated, have them try reading with their mask on or doing homework for five minutes. Continue to increase the time and vary the activities until they are largely adjusted to mask-wearing.