Some kids are in school full-time or in a hybrid model, and some may be attending daycare while parents are working. Initially, the new normal of wearing a mask may have been a difficult process for them to understand. By now, most children are quite used to the experience. For those still struggling, it’s critical to validate their frustration and irritation while also gently yet firmly reminding them of the need to continue the practice of wearing a mask.
Many kids, especially younger ones, may be hesitant or unsure. Parents can help ease this feeling by trying to make mask-wearing more regular and even fun. There are multiple ways that parents can help kids get used to/more comfortable wearing a mask.
Modeling mask-wearing will go a long way toward normalizing the behavior. Who wears masks? My whole family! If everyone in the family is wearing their mask when at home, it becomes a normal part of the routine and an expected part of the attire – socks, shoes, pants, shirt, mask. You can explain that it is a rule for us to wear a mask when we leave the house. Relating it to other rules can be helpful (e.g., “we have to wear shoes outside, in stores, and in school, for now, it’s a rule to wear face masks”).
Teach your child how to wear their mask correctly. Equally important is to show children how to put it on and take it off. This will allow your child to understand what it is like to wear a mask and allow them to practice in the comfort of their own home. Again, practicing as a family normalizes this process and helps all children learn together and teach each other.
Look for masks that allow your child to personalize it. This can include picking one in their favorite color or one that has their favorite character on it. But if those are hard to find, you can get ones that the child can decorate with markers and stickers. Be sure to have several on hand and a system for transporting them. Lanyards can serve as very useful mask holders.
For younger children, incorporate masks into their playtime. Masks can be put on their stuffed animals or toys; you can even find doll-sized masks. Encourage playing doctor or nurse during playtime while wearing their mask.
Chances are your child has had many questions and feelings about why they have to wear a mask all day at school and at any public place they go. It is essential to make space for them to talk about how they feel and validate their perspective. Try to keep a positive outlook and explain to them in terms that are suitable for their age.
Show your child that everyone is wearing masks by pulling up pictures of people they might know with masks, and even people they don’t know. You could make it a game to guess the familiar people based on visible parts of the face only.
We all read emotions primarily by facial expression, much of which is covered when wearing a mask, making it harder to read a person’s nonverbal communication cues. This can be particularly challenging for young children. Explain that even though your face is hidden (like a superhero!), friendly smiles are still underneath the soft fabric of the mask. If you aren’t able to use a transparent mask, practice looking for smiling eyes with your child.
Masks can be uncomfortable, hot, or itchy, especially when they have to be worn for an extended period. If your child is complaining about how their mask is uncomfortable, try different styles. It might take some trial and error to find one that your child likes. Again, it is important to acknowledge that it can be uncomfortable to wear a mask for prolonged periods. Highlight the safety reasons (“germs can go from our body to someone else’s when we cough, sneeze, spit or breathe too close to someone else and a mask helps keep our germs to ourselves”) and the benefits of mask-wearing (“we get to be in school with some of our friends”).
It is essential to explain to your child the proper steps when wearing their mask. If they understand why they shouldn’t touch their face and why it has to go over both their mouth and nose, they might be able to remember to do these things more easily.
Initially, it is especially important to use praise and rewards if your child is wearing their mask correctly and to reinforce their efforts and prosocial behavior. With older children and teenagers, focus on the ways in which they are supporting their community and demonstrating greater maturity by being able to effectively and independently wear their mask when around others.
Depending on how old your child is, another way to normalize masks is by singing songs. Here is an original song by a Massachusetts-based musician geared toward children but fun for all ages – and very catchy!