As New Jersey schools begin to reveal their plans for reopening schools in the fall, many parents are wondering if their kids will be able to keep a mask on at school without touching their face all day. What kind of mask will be the most comfortable and how can you get your kids to actually wear it?
Dr. Kelly Otte, a pediatrician with Atlantic Health System, says that there’s plenty parents can do to help prepare their kids for the possibility of needing to wear a mask all day at school. She says the first step is to have a conversation with your school-aged child about why wearing a mask is important.
“Explain why you need to wear a mask in very basic terms,” says Otte. Tell kids that wearing a mask protects them, their friends and teachers, and can help stop germs from getting in and out. “If kids understand why they’re wearing it, they’ll be more likely to wear it,” she says.
Let Kids Choose
Giving your child some sense of autonomy can go a long way toward getting them on board for mask-wearing, says Otte.
“Let them pick it,” she suggests. Allow your child to choose the color and the style – as long as the school has no regulations against patterns or colors. “Make it like picking out a new backpack,” says Otte.
Dr. Otte also suggests trying different textures of masks to see what your child is most comfortable in. While cotton is a great choice since it’s breathable, there are also masks in technical fabrics that work well, too.
Otte says that a bandana or scarf may be acceptable but that the loser the material, the less effective it may be in keeping droplets from coming out or getting in.
“There’s no need for a medical or surgical mask,” says Otte. “We should save those for healthcare workers,” she says. “A fabric mask is reusable and more economical.”
In the end, Otte says that the type of mask that your child will actually wear is the best kind to use.
Find the Right Fit
When it comes to selecting a mask, Otte says you want to make sure you choose one that covers the child’s nose, mouth and chin. If the mask is too big or too small, your kid will be fiddling with it all day, which not only defeats the purpose but also results in more face-touching, something we all want to avoid right now.
“Consider trying a mask with adjustable straps,” says Otte. “There are even some styles where you can attach them to glasses or hats. Adjustable straps are great because everyone has a different shape of their face and they also allow for growth.”
Otte says that the American Academy of Pediatrics has great user-friendly info on mask-wearing and reminds parents that it is not safe for children under age 2 to wear a mask.
Keep it Clean
“Wash the mask daily with hot soap and water in washing machine,” says Otte, warning parents not to use any fragrant detergents which may irritate kids as they breathe it in all day.
Since it’s inevitable that kids will be taking their masks off to eat or possibly when they use the bathroom, Otte suggests having a second one available for your child, stored in a paper bag.
“Masks are sold in packs and having one for each day will make it easier on families,” she says.
While Otte says that disposable masks are also fine to use, it might make more sense to buy fabric ones which are reusable and then you won’t need to worry about replenishing your supply when you run out.
Practice at Home
For younger kids and children with special needs, wearing a mask can be even more difficult. Otte suggests playing with the mask to get your child more used to it. “Have a doll wear it, hold it and try it on,” she says. “Kids learn through play.” She even suggests using a chart and awarding a star for keeping the mask on for increments of time.
Otte says that there are all types of masks including clear ones for those who need to read lips. Ones that clip on at the back of the head may be less bothersome to kids with sensory issues rather than a style that goes around their ears. Experiment with different styles to see what works.
Coping with Strange Circumstances
There’s no getting around the fact that it will just be downright weird for kids to be masked in school. Not being able to see friends’ and teachers’ faces can be worrisome, but Otte says that kids are actually very adaptable.
“Look toward the positive,” she suggests. “Talk about how your child will be able to see their friends and talk to them. If you focus on the positive and get excited as opposed to what they are missing out on, you’ll have better results. Kids will latch onto whatever emotion you are showing.”
If your child is still having a hard time adjusting to mask-wearing, that’s ok.
“Ask them what was hard about today, and what was great about today,” suggests Otte.
And don’t forget to take breaks!
“Allow a safe space where you don’t have to wear masks, such as in your own backyard so they can have a little break.”