Health & Science

How To Get Kids To Wear a Face Mask—And Who Should Wear One

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The CDC now recommends the voluntary use of cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing isn’t always possible—and that recommendation applies to kids aged two and up. In areas where there is significant transmission of the coronavirus, there are likely to be large numbers of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers, including children, so covering your nose and mouth with a mask, even if you’re not sick, can help slow the spread.

It’s important to note that, besides not being safe for babies under age two, face coverings are also not recommended for “anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”

But even if they’re technically “eligible” for a face mask, of course, getting a child of any age to actually wear one can present a whole new set of challenges for parents. So if you have a necessary errand or appointment coming up where the kids won’t be able to realistically stay more than six feet away from others, here are some ideas that can help them actually follow the CDC’s recommendation.

If you’re able, try to get or make a mask in their favorite color, or using an old shirt or sheets that feature an appealing print or character. Having kids involved in (or just witness to) the process of making one could help them buy into the idea of wearing it. The CDC page 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 “fun” options out there. 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.

Make it a point to talk about wearing face masks as a positive thing we can all do to help and protect others—this also makes the whole mask-wearing phenomenon seem much less scary. When they do put it on, be sure to compliment them on how awesome they look in their mask and what a great helper they’re being. You can even compare them to superheroes, if they’re into that—or to everyday heroes like medical workers.

To up the enthusiasm factor, you could pretend you’re a family of spies, ninjas, superheroes, or whatever would excite your kiddo. To gamify it even further, come up with a rules and rewards system—for example, whoever keeps their mask on the longest without touching it gets to pick tonight’s movie.

Show kids photos of some of their beloved relatives and friends wearing masks—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.

To help young kids understand, you could try role-playing with a stuffed animal or doll. Have the 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.

It may seem like just another thing for parents to deal with right now, but at least wearing cloth face coverings is one way that the whole family can do something helpful for the community. Like social distancing, it’s another way to show that we care about others.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.