Health & Science

What To Say to Your Kids About Wearing Their Masks at School

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A new school year is ramping up just as COVID-19 cases are starting to surge again across the country. New variants like Delta are spreading rapidly through the population, including in kids and even babies, as vaccination rates continue to lag. Naturally, parents are feeling concerned about sending their kids back to school, and lots of questions are coming up for families about how to stay safe.

Many experts and families agree that keeping kids in school is preferred to the remote learning alternatives that many have been experiencing over the last year and a half. In order to prevent the spread of COVID in schools, and keep students and their families healthy, the CDC is recommending universal masking indoors for all students over 2 years old, staff, and school visitors. 

Easier said than done, right? Parents and teachers alike know by now the struggle of getting kids to keep their masks on—especially in the face of peer pressure. On top of that, legislation is popping up in districts around the country that bans schools from enforcing masking, forcing an increasing number of districts to defy mask mandate bans in order to help ensure student and staff safety.

These new laws, along with changing public attitudes about masking, are presenting new challenges for parents as their kids return to school. While many parents may want their kids to keep masks on in school, children may be faced with peer pressure, or even pressure from adults, to take their masks off. These quick scripts can help parents navigate the mask conversation with their kids during the back-to-school season. 

What you can say to kids

“All of our decisions are based on science that will help keep you safe. I want masks to help you feel confident at school, not scared.”

It’s important to make sure your kids know that they aren’t being asked to follow some arbitrary rule. Masking has been proven time and again to prevent the transmission of illnesses, so while COVID is still spreading, it’s the safest way to spend time indoors around other people. 

“Wearing masks helps keep schools open so you can be in person with your friends, teachers, and other students!”

No one likes wearing a mask, but focusing on the positive aspects can help shift their perspective! Providing incentives to keep masks on can be a great motivator for kids. Generally speaking, schools will need to shut down again if cases spread through the classrooms—so knowing that there’s something concrete they can do to help keep schools open can be really empowering and a strong motivation to wear their mask.

I wear a mask when I go inside the store or into work because I want to keep myself and the rest of our family healthy.”

Make sure they understand that they aren’t the only ones who are choosing to wear a mask. The more solidarity they feel from other family members and friends, the more confidence they’ll have in keeping their mask on at school. 

“What do you want your mask to look like?”

Let them have some say in the design or color of their mask! Giving kids some buy-in and letting them be a part of the process of picking masks out or decorating them will help them feel more invested in sticking with it. Your kid is much more likely to keep a mask on that they chose!

“What are your worries and concerns about wearing a mask at school?”

Take the time to talk through their questions about how the masks protect them and why we wear them. It may help to explain why, even if they see other students without masks, their masks help them stay healthy.

What kids can say to friends

Despite the excitement (and other mixed-up emotions) they may feel over returning to school, many kids are nervous about being confronted by students or friends who might not be wearing masks, if it’s still considered optional at your school. 

In order to help them feel more prepared and ease some of that anxiety, you’ll also want to equip your kids with scripts of their own to use when they’re feeling pressure from others to take their mask off. Try teaching them some quick, confident statements like, “This is how I feel most comfortable,” or, “It’s my business if I want to wear a mask.” This will help set them up for success when those tricky moments come up. 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.