–by Tiffany Pottkotter
PUBLICATION DATE: June 16, 2020
With new mask mandates, and the approach of a new school year, it is important for parents to help their children adjust to mask-wearing. Here are some important tips on how to help children adjust to mask-wearing.
Experts agree all should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations and to check for updates as recommendations change according to new scientific research. The current CDC guidelines for children are that everyone two years and older wear a cloth face covering that covers their nose and mouth in public settings when around people not living in the same household, particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Also, cloth face coverings should not be put on babies or children younger than two because of the danger of suffocation. Children younger than two 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.
Individual school requirements can vary, so parents should make sure they understand their children’s specific school masking guidelines as well as the CDC’s. It can be helpful for parents to explain to their children that mask-wearing is a rule right now.
Five tips to help children adjust to mask-wearing are:
Model a good attitude and set an example. Parents should wear their own mask and keep a positive attitude. If they are going to the store and want the child to wear a mask, they should be sure to put theirs on first. Attitude and role modeling of the parent really affects the majority of a child’s behavior. If the parent has a positive approach, even if they do not agree with it, the child will be more likely to follow suit and do the same.
Explain the importance of mask-wearing. Kids tend to like superheroes and superheroes wear a mask. Parents have an opportunity to teach children that mask-wearing is fun and important and not a punishment. Based on the latest research, it is considered one of the best things children can do to help stop the spread of germs. Parents can also emphasize that children should wear masks to protect others, just like superheroes protect others.
Size the mask appropriately. Children should have masks that fit snugly around their face to help prevent 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. A parent who is a seamstress can sit down and sew them, but there are easy, no-sew ways to make a mask, too. It can be a fun experiment. Another tip is to use a different fabric for the front and the back. This helps children to more easily distinguish which is the front and which is the backside of the mask.
Learn the proper way to mask and unmask.“Donning” and “doffing” are typical words in an organization where employees put on and remove work-related protective gear. They can be great vocabulary words to teach kids. To properly don a mask wash hands or use hand sanitizer. Touch only the part that wraps around the ears while securing the mask. Gently pull below the chin to adjust the mask to the position covering nose to chin. To properly doff a mask wash hands or use hand sanitizer. Touch the part behind the ear and remove it straight forward. Then fold the mask in half and put it in a paper bag, labeled with the name.
It is important to teach your kids that their masks are just for them and are not to be shared. Also, they should be stored in a safe place.
Another tip is to have two bins in the laundry room: one marked for dirty masks and one marked for clean masks. These designations make it easy to know which masks are contaminated and which are available for use.
Practice wearing masks and gradually increase the time. It is so important to avoid putting the burden on teachers to teach kids how to wear a mask at home. They should be familiar and used to wearing them before school begins.
After teaching the reasons why to 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. As children adjust to wearing the mask, parents should gradually increase the time. Once the children 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.
With a little preparation, many children can adjust to mask-wearing without much difficulty. The sooner parents start helping their children make a gradual transition, the better prepared the children will be for the new school year.
Tiffany Pottkotter MSN, MA, LPCC, APRN, PMHNP-BC, is a ProMedica Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner