Monday, July 13, 2020

Getting Young Children to Wear Masks

Although wearing -- or not wearing -- a face mask may be a political statement in some parts of the country, here in the New York City area there seems to be a general consensus that masks are the best way to keep ourselves and others safe and most people seem to be wearing them when they can't be socially distanced from others.

In fact, families visiting our offices since we re-opened have been required to wear masks, not just in our offices, but even to enter the lobby of our building. It makes us all safer.

Children from older elementary age and up seem to "get it" and most that we have encountered are pretty good about keeping their mask on where necessary.

But what about getting young children to wear masks? This question takes on particular importance now that day care centers are starting to reopen and there is the possibility of at least some in-person school and preschool in the fall. Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that children under age two should not wear face masks, since they can pose dangers of choking. But it is possible to help children older than two to use face masks appropriately and, as importantly, to understand why they are wearing a mask.

Young children can understand simple explanations that lots of people have been getting sick and that wearing a mask is a helpful way to keep everyone healthy. Little kids love to be helpers and this kind of language should appeal to them. Slightly older children may understand the idea of germs and that masks help keep germs away from them and from other people too.

It is not just young children who may need extra support and guidance around mask wearing. Children who have sensory sensitivities may be unable to tolerate mask wearing, especially for  an extended time. Trying different kinds of masks, using clear face shields that provide some barrier while not closely covering the mouth and nose, and practicing mask wearing to build up additional tolerance may all help.

Other ways parents can help children become comfortable with wearing a mask, as suggested by the AAP, include:
  • Look in the mirror with the face coverings on and talk about it.
  • Put a cloth face covering on a favorite stuffed animal.
  • Decorate them so they're more personalized and fun.
  • Show your child pictures of other children wearing them.
  • Draw one on their favorite book character.

  In addition to the ideas noted above, the most effective way to teach your child the importance of mask wearing, as it is with most things, is to model the behavior yourself. If parents are matter of fact about the need to wear a mask outside the house where social distancing isn't guaranteed, their children, even preschoolers, will be more likely to accept mask wearing as something they need to do, like wearing shoes or a jacket. There may be some resistance, but compliance will be far easier.

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