We all understand that it’s important for everyone over the age of 2 to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it’s a requirement in many public places and most schools that have returned to in-person instruction. Unfortunately, getting some children to wear them for more than a few minutes can be a constant battle.
Whether your child finds masks uncomfortable, they resist new routines, or they just don’t like being told what to do, it’s still up to us to keep them safe—and these days, that often means getting them to wear a mask. Here are a few parent-tested hacks for making it easier.
Letting kids decorate their own masks can go a long way toward making them motivated to wear them. Have them choose the color and fabric if you’re making it yourself, and provide stickers and fabric pens for personal touches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines three ways to make a DIY face covering at home (no sewing skills are needed for two of them).
If you want to buy masks, there are some other options for making the choice feel more personalized. The NBA, for example, is selling team logo face coverings in youth sizes (all proceeds of which will go to charity). And a search on Etsy for “children’s face mask” turns up all sorts of prints including dinosaurs, Spider-Man, and JoJo Siwa.
Get help from a fuzzy friend
Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal or doll? Have your little one help you put a mask on it. This can give them a sense of control and make it less scary, while also giving them a trusted buddy who’s wearing one, too. Show them how it goes over both the nose and mouth, and if you have younger children, try playing peekaboo with the mask on the toy. You can also draw masks on their favorite characters in a coloring book.
To further help young kids understand, you could try role-playing with the toys. Have a doll avoid touching or taking off the mask while going to the imaginary grocery store, doctor’s office, food donation drop-off, etc. Your kid can then help compliment the doll for doing such a great job wearing the mask.
Make it sew more comfortable
Lots of kids (and adults, too!) complain that the elastic hurts their ears after wearing a mask for extended periods. To avoid this, attach buttons to a hat or headband to make it easy for kids to loop the elastic around the buttons rather than their ears, making the whole thing way more comfortable. For a no-sew option, attach binder clips to the sides of the hat instead, and loop the elastic over the clip “handles.” Flipping the handles down makes it easy to remove the mask.
Empower them with knowledge
The sight of everyone wearing masks can frighten some kids, so it’s important to explain why we wear them even when we’re not sick. For young kids, try to keep it simple by saying something like, “Masks protect our noses and mouths from germs, while also protecting others by keeping our germs from spreading to them.” Remind kids that they’re being great helpers and very responsible community members by wearing their mask, and praise them whenever they do.
If your child still seems frightened or uncomfortable with masks, looking in the mirror with the face coverings on and talking about them may help them express their feelings and concerns.
Use the power of positive persuasion
You might not ordinarily encourage your kids to imitate things their friends are doing, but this is one time where it can be helpful, especially if you have school-age kids who may be more affected by what their peers are doing. Ask friends to send you pictures of their kids wearing masks to normalize it (“Look what Charlie is wearing when he goes out”).
Show kids photos of some of their beloved relatives and friends wearing masks, too—or even better, have them video chat with someone who can demonstrate taking their mask on and off so your kid will understand it’s really the same Grandpa under that mask. Keep in mind that kids don’t have the same face-reading skills as adults do, so interacting with others who are wearing masks can be difficult or even frightening for them.
Finding out the reason behind your child’s resistance to mask wearing can be instrumental in helping them get more comfortable with it. Masks are a necessary part of our lives for now, so the sooner our kids get on board with the idea, the easier (and safer!) our lives will become.