By Christen McAlpine-Tesfai
Pediatrician, Good Hope Pediatrics
With mask mandates in place in a lot of communities, parents may need a little help getting kids to jump on board, but with these tips and tricks, your child should be ready to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Mask recommendations for kids
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids under the age of 2 shouldn’t wear masks due to suffocation and choking hazards. Also, parents of children with cognitive or respiratory impairments should exercise caution with masks for their children. Masks don’t have to be worn all the time, for example when you’re at home or outside where you can be at least six feet away from others. For kids 2 and older, masks should be worn in public where social distancing isn’t always possible, such as at the grocery store, doctor’s office and public transit. But, whenever possible, leave kids at home.
What masks are best?
For those of us who aren’t medical professionals or don’t have a life-threatening illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) recommends using two layers of tight-woven material for masks that are good at blocking virus particles. Bonus! They are washable and reusable.
Tips for getting kids to wear masks
1. Talk about it: Talk to your children in simple terms about why people are wearing masks. Tell them that it’s important for everyone, not just adults and sick people, to wear masks because they help protect us and those around us. Masks stop the spread of respiratory droplets that we inadvertently spray when we cough and sneeze but also even when we talk.
2. Be a role model: You want your kids to wear a mask? Show them how it’s done! By presenting a positive and easy-going attitude about wearing a mask, kids will be able to follow your lead.
3. Do practice sessions at home, when the time is right: Find a time when kids are in a good mood, well rested and have had a little something to eat. Allow kids to hold the mask, sniff it and generally get the feel of it. Then, have them either hold it to their mouth or put it on, starting with a few seconds, gradually building up to longer periods of time.
4. Make it fun: Find a mask with their favorite character on it or, if you’re crafty, make masks your kids can decorate. You can even make masks for their stuffed animals and dolls.
5. Normalize it. Once they have a mask they like, you can try reading their favorite books or coloring a picture while wearing masks as a way to get used to it. Set up a video call with grandparents or friends with everyone wearing masks to help normalize it. Distractions can be a good way to help them get used to this new sensation of something covering their nose and mouth. Don’t forget to give your kids lots of praise for their efforts.
6. Provide incentives if necessary: As with any new behavior, some kids may need a little encouragement. Use ideas that have worked in the past: sticker charts, picking out a small treat, getting to stay up 15 minutes later or an extra book at bedtime.
7. Acknowledge their frustration: Kids may experience frustration with how COVID-19 has disrupted their lives. Acknowledging and normalizing their feelings can be helpful to getting kids to understand the importance of wearing masks.
What we are doing at Children’s Wisconsin
Children’s Wisconsin encourages all patient families and visitors to bring masks whenever visiting one of our locations. If you do not have a mask, we will provide you with one. When you visit Children’s Wisconsin hospital or clinics, all employees will also be wearing a mask. It’s important for your safety and the safety of the staff and doctors.
If you have questions about your child’s health, please contact your child’s doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, call 2-1-1 and an operator can director you to the nearest community health clinic or other needed resources.
For the latest tips and news from Children’s Wisconsin, go to childrenswi.org/newshub.