Published on July 13, 2020

Superheroes wear masks - and so can you!

Little boy wearing mask and superhero costume

“There is NO WAY my kid will wear a mask all day!

I hear this statement frequently from parents as we discuss what school may look like this fall. I get it - as if parenting isn't already hard enough, let's add some battles about face coverings into the mix. But unfortunately, this is the new reality that we find ourselves in and we must develop new habits that will keep our families, friends and educators safe.To help you start this process, I've gathered some simple strategies to help you prepare your children to wear masks, and share answers to some frequently asked mask questions.

Is it safe for children to wear masks?

Wearing a mask is safe for most children. Masks do not affect the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. Just think - surgeons wear masks for hours at a time while operating without any negative effects on their skills or their health.

Of course, there are some people who should not wear a mask:

  • Children under age 2
  • Children with severe cognitive disabilities or significant respiratory impairment
  • Children to whom a mask would pose a choking or strangulation hazard
  • Children who would not be able to remove the mask without assistance

Should I ask my pediatrician for a note exempting my child from wearing a mask?

If you have concerns about your child's safety while wearing a mask, discuss them with your pediatrician, but be aware that difficulty with mask wearing is not typically a medical issue but instead a significant behavioral challenge. Your pediatrician can answer your questions and work with you to optimize your child's health. For example, if you worry that your child's asthma would make it dangerous for her to wear a mask, you may want to discuss your child's asthma medications with her doctor and talk about changes that might improve her symptoms.

What is the proper way to wear a mask?

It is important, especially with children, to find a mask that fits well. I've tried several different masks with my kids and find that when my four year old wears a mask that is too large, I have to follow him around and constantly pull the mask back up over his nose.Try to find a mask that fits securely over both the nose and mouth and snugly against the face. You may find it helpful to have several masks for each child, particularly for the younger crowd. If your child is like mine (a mask-licker), you may need to change his mask throughout the day, since wet masks are less effective and can be more difficult to breathe through. Plan to wash the mask after a day's use, according to the package instructions.

Teach children how to put their masks on properly.

  • Wash your hands
  • Touch only the loops or ties when putting the mask on.
  • Place the mask over your nose and mouth and stretch it from ear to ear
  • Do not touch your face or touch your mask while it is on your face

Proper removal is also important:

  • Wash your hands first
  • Touch only the loops or ties and remove the mask from the face
  • Give the mask to an adult or place it in previously agreed upon spot
  • Wash your hands again

When do we need to wear a mask?

Schools will likely release their own guidelines for mask wearing while at school, but general guidelines are to wear a mask in public places and when you are not able to distance yourself from people who do not live in your household. It's okay not to wear a mask when outdoors AND able to maintain a distance of 6 feet away from others.

What types of masks are best?

There are many types of masks. Surgical masks and n95 masks should be reserved for medical personnel and first responders. For everyday use, it's recommended that you buy or make a cloth face covering. These come in many styles and materials. In general, a tightly woven fabric is better than loose, cotton is better than synthetic, and multiple layers of fabric are better than one. Masks that have a pocket for a filter add an additional layer of protection. Masks with exhalation valves should not be used as the valve allows droplets to escape, defeating the purpose of masking. But above all, the mask should fit and be worn properly.

How do I get my child to wear a mask?

  • Stay positive - Children reflect their parents attitude and approach. We need to discuss masks with our children in a calm, matter of fact way, as an important safety habit for our current world. We wear seat-belts in the car, we wear helmets on our bikes and now we wear masks in public spaces to keep our friends, teachers and community safe.
  • Start practicing now - Practice wearing a mask at home, in a safe environment, for short amounts of time. That way, when school starts, your child will already be comfortable wearing a mask and that will mean one less stressful change to their school experience.
  • Keep it fun - Let your child play with a mask to get comfortable with it. Discuss how superheroes wear masks and capes and that the mask makes her look like a superhero. Encourage children to dress their dolls and stuffed animals with masks. You could even draw masks on some characters in storybooks to make masks more relatable.
  • Give them control - Let your child pick a mask color or fabric, or let them decorate their own mask. Teach children how to put on and take off the mask by themselves. Let them look at themselves in the mirror or take selfies so they can see what they look like with a mask on.
  • Be a model - Make sure that you also are wearing a mask in all appropriate settings. If you treat masks as normal, so will your children. Show your child pictures of other children wearing masks, or pictures of their favorite characters wearing masks. Ask them if they can still tell which character is which and point out how the character's identity is not changed by the mask. Remind them that all their friends will also be wearing masks so they will fit right in with everyone else.
  • Acknowledge their fears - Speak simply and honestly and answer any questions that arise. Allow them to feel what they feel and offer comfort for those feelings. A simple way to explain why we wear masks is the following: Sometimes people who are not sick can still spread germs to other people. When we wear a mask, we keep our germs to ourselves and keep other people from getting sick.
  • Focus on the positive  - Teach children that by wearing a mask, they protect others. Emphasize that it is an act of kindness and praise them for helping protect others.

If you continue to struggle to get your child to adjust to wearing a mask, consider providing incentives, like a sticker chart, or try using mind/body relaxation techniques during practice. If you continue to need help, ask your child's doctor or educator for further suggestions or desensitization techniques.

Nothing is particularly easy these days and wearing masks can be challenging.But if we can all work together to protect each other and do our part to slow the spread of coronavirus, slowly, we can reclaim our world, and what a wonderful thing that will be.

If you need a pediatrician for your child, we have wonderful providers who are accepting new patients.