In the past week, we’ve all had to mentally shift from the “you don’t need a mask, save them for the professionals” mindset to the CDC’s newest recommendation that we should, indeed, be wearing “cloth face coverings” whenever we leave the house. When a family friend sewed and sent us two masks this week (one for me and one for my husband), my 9-year-old son immediately wanted to know where his was.
I hadn’t really thought about the fact that he might need one. After all, he’s not really going anywhere. We’ve been taking social distancing very seriously for weeks, and I’m the one making any trips out of the house for essential items. He goes out in our backyard or for a walk around the neighborhood, but we’re careful to cross the street if anyone is coming our way. Even so, I realized there may be instances where he—and other kids—might need to wear a face mask. If you’re a single parent, you may have no choice but to take your kids with you to the grocery store, to a pharmacy or to a doctor’s appointment. So it’s better to be prepared.
Why do kids need them?
The recommendation to wear cloth masks outside of the home is less about protecting ourselves from the coronavirus and more about helping prevent us from spreading it to others should we be infected and not know it. Because kids often carry the virus without showing symptoms (and because kids are less great about things like hand-washing and not touching their faces), they are primed to be spreaders.
Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and youth development speaker, told Today.com that because children are more likely to spread the virus, they too should wear masks as often as possible:
“Kids are much more likely to be asymptotic carriers or pre-symptomatic carriers, so … we do a lot of good when we say, ‘Hey, in addition to washing your hands, and please stop licking things, we’d also like you to wear a mask,’” Gilboa told TODAY Parents. “We really want to slow and stop the spread of this, and we’re seeing in data from other countries that kids are actively involved, entirely accidentally, in spreading this.”
The CDC recommends that everyone, including kids ages 2 and older, wear cloth face coverings, “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
It’s important to note that wearing masks is recommended in addition to—not in place of—the social distancing measures we’ve already been taking. Note that masks are not for infants and toddlers under age 2. Children that young have smaller airways that can make it harder for them to breathe through a mask. For infants in particular, a mask poses a suffocation risk. Do what you can to keep kids this age contained and distanced from others by strapping them into a car seat or stroller whenever possible.
But how do you get them to actually wear one?
Ahhhhh, yes, and here we have arrived at the real issue: We may know it’s best for kids to wear a mask, but they may have exactly zero interest in complying. It’s helpful to think of this the same way you’d think about getting them used to wearing a bike helmet.
Helmets are clunky and uncomfortable… and very necessary. So we make it as fun as we possibly can: We make a big deal about them picking out a bright pink helmet or one with pictures of dinosaurs all over the side. Or we let them decorate it themselves with markers or stickers. Whatever it takes for them to feel ownership over the decision to wear it, that’s what we do. The same concept applies here.
If you search “masks for kids” on Etsy right now, you’re going to find a wide selection of handmade masks in a variety of fabrics and prints, from superheroes to cartoon characters to animals. My son picked out a Star Wars mask and a pirate skeleton mask and he’s pretty excited to try them out.
Jamie Roney writes for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that she had to tackle mask-wearing with her toddler daughter, who has the disorder, during a recent flu season. She collected a variety of tricks to try, including:
- Have the parents also wear a mask (check!)
- Look in the mirror and talk about the masks (better yet, take mask selfies!)
- Put a mask on a favorite doll or stuffed animal
- Show them pictures of other kids wearing masks
- Draw a mask on their favorite book character
If all else fails, Roney reminds us that a little bribery never hurt anyone—especially when safety is on the line:
We found that having her favorite baby doll wear a mask during playtime was the simplest way for her to start feeling comfortable with a mask present … We played with the baby doll in a mask for two days until Desi didn’t seem to notice it anymore. On day three, she asked for some sweets as a snack, and I told her that if she could wear a mask like her baby, she could have three M&M’S. That’s what finally did it! She wore her mask for 10 seconds while I counted, cheered and danced around the kitchen like a lunatic, trying to distract her. Success!
Just remember that once a mask has been worn, it is officially contaminated and will need to be treated as such and cleaned before the child can wear it again.
And if none of this works and it’s at all possible… just stay home. You’re all better off there right now anyway.
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