By Andrea Giedinghagen, MD
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now (how many times have you heard that in the last six months?). We don’t know exactly what the coming school year will look like or what the second wave will look like. We don’t know when a vaccine is coming, or when it comes, how much it will help.
One thing we do know is that wearing masks is an important way to curb the spread of COVID-19, keeping kids and adults safe—and that whenever kids over the age of two are in public, they should be wearing masks (just like their parents). However, it can be difficult to get kiddos to put their masks on—let alone keep them in place. Here are some tips to get your kids mask-ready no matter what their age!
- Let your kids pick out masks with designs they like: unicorns, stars, Paw Patrol or just a favorite hue. Get a set of matching masks for the whole family—but beware that while younger kids will relish the chance to look just like Mom or Dad, teenagers may be less into it.
- Ensure the mask fits. Wearing a well-fitting mask can feel uncomfortable at first, let alone one that’s too small or too large. A too-small mask may tug uncomfortably on the ears, or not cover the nose easily. A too-large mask will slip down to uncover the face. In both cases, ill-fitting masks are likely to make your kiddo touch her face MORE—exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
- Ease kids into mask-wearing. Have them try the mask on at home, and gradually lengthen the time they wear it—first two minutes, then three, and so on. It’s even better if you wear your mask at the same time, to let them get used to seeing other people in them (which can be scary for kids)! Give them lots of praise for wearing their masks just like grown ups do.
- Focus on the good that masks do—helping keep us and our friends safe. While it may be tempting to talk up the dangers of going maskless, for most kids this is unnecessarily frightening in an already scary situation. With teens and tweens, this is a great opportunity to talk in a non-blaming way about your family’s responsibilities to one another, and the way one person’s behavior can affect everyone else.
- Be a positive example. When you’re out in public make sure you wear your mask correctly, too (covering both mouth and nose, please)! Wash your hands before taking it off, remove it using the ear straps or ties, and don’t touch the front of the mask or your face. Last, throw it in the washing machine and wash your hands again. Guide your kids through these steps too.
Andrea Giedinghagen, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry