Wearing masks or cloth face coverings is an important way to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our community, but this can be challenging for children – especially younger kids who may see face coverings as strange, uncomfortable or even scary. As families and caregivers prepare children to return to school and childcare settings, masking will be an important element of their day.
The good news is that most children can feel comfortable seeing people in masks – and even wearing masks themselves – with 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 at home 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 or when 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:
- Show, don’t tell – Rather than telling your child to wear a mask, you can 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.
- Keep it simple – 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.
- Positive motivation – Find 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).
- Get crafty – 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.
- Have fun – Your child’s imagination can help them overcome any anxiety they 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 toy is wearing a mask. This is a great way to see if your child has additional questions or confusion about mask-wearing as well.
- Make it comfortable – 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.
Want to learn more? View our Kids & Masks video series as we address masking challenges, cleaning masks, and how to wear them the right way.