Across the country, cities are slowly reopening to the public. As we venture outdoors and into local coffee shops, outdoor dining spaces, salons, and more, many state officials are asking residents to be prepared for sensible restrictions—namely practicing social distancing and wearing a face mask.
That’s all well and good for the able-bodied adults among us, but for our children, it can be another story. Not only is it unnerving for kids to see others with their faces covered—but asking them to mask up may be on par with waging war.
So, how can we gently nudge our children into practicing this simple step without scaring them in the process? I called in reinforcements in the form of a board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Mona Amin, D.O., and a child psychologist, Dr. Emily King. Together, Drs. Amin and King shared a developmentally appropriate plan to ease our little ones into this new phase.
Start With the Basics
First understand that the face mask recommendation only applies to children over 2 years old. Dr. Amin reminded us that covering the face of a baby or child under 2 may put them at risk for suffocation.
For young kids—and let’s face it, most of us—the concept of a face mask is new. They likely don’t understand why they’ve been asked to wear one and why it’s important to leave it in place. Dr. King suggested starting at the beginning: “First explain that germs don’t move by themselves, but people move them,” she said. “If we all stayed home and didn’t move, then the germs couldn’t move and the virus would go away faster!”
By personifying these germs, you can help little ones understand that the virus moves from person-to-person when they’re in close contact—but it can’t jump across town. Dr. King suggested that this is a simple way to introduce the critical need for face coverings in a way that our kids can understand. She said that because we need to move about to take care of ourselves and our families, many of us can’t stay home all the time. But by wearing a mask, we help care for and protect everyone we meet by trapping our germs before they can spread.
Practice at Home
Dr. Amin encouraged parents to demystify mask-wearing by starting slowly at home. Without the pressure of a public space, you can try these helpful tips:
- Let your child choose the design of their mask. Whether it’s a fun, fancy, or silly one, if it’s something they chose themselves, they’re more likely to wear it.
- Model responsible mask-wearing. “Kids often look to what their parents are doing, so be their mask role model,” Dr. Amin said.
- Embrace your silliness! Dr. Amin suggested using the mask as a magic transformer: put it on, and suddenly you and your child are superheroes!
Calm Their Fears
Seeing our friends and neighbors in masks can be scary. Dr. King said, “Faces give us clues to figure out if people are friendly. If they smile, we know they’re friendly. With a mask on, we are not sure!”
She advised parents to prepare kids and coax them into following their lead. “Encourage children to take cues from a trusted adult,” she said. “If mom or dad think someone is friendly, then we can trust that they are.”
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