Are you battling with your child about wearing a face mask? Whether it’s putting on masks for school or another activity, it’s a good idea to start practicing ahead of time. Dr. Andrea White, pediatrician with UnityPoint Health, gives eight suggestions to help normalize kids’ face masks.
What Age of Kids Should Wear a Face Mask?
It’s important to remember younger children under the age of 2 shouldn’t wear a mask.
“It’s considered a strangulation and choking hazard for little ones. Besides that, any child can wear a mask and should be encouraged to do so in public places where social distancing (six feet apart) is not doable,” Dr. White says.
Talk to your doctor if your child has trouble breathing in a mask or is downright refusing to wear one. Your care team is also available to help if your child has developmental delays that may interfere with mask wearing. They can always help you figure out what’s right for your individual situation.
Why Do Face Masks Help Reduce the Spread of COVID-19?
Face masks act as a barrier – helping prevent your respiratory droplets from releasing into the air from your mouth and nose. When you, and those around you, wear a mask, it can significantly reduce the number of those droplets released into the air, helping prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When it comes to mask wearing in public, you should especially wear one if you’re feeling sick. But, in general, it’s a good idea for everyone – adults and kids – to wear one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a significant portion of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic (lack symptoms) and can transmit the virus to others before ever showing symptoms – like cough, fever or shortness of breath.
How Should Children’s Face Masks Fit?
“A properly fitting mask should cover the nose and mouth, fit snugly below the chin and fall against the sides of the face without too much gaping. Parents/caregivers can tie a knot in the ear loops, purchase a mask with adjustable ear loops or use a mask that ties behind the head to get the best fit,” Dr. White says.
If you have questions about how your child’s face mask fits, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s care team. It’s a great idea to do this during back-to-school physicals, if you haven’t completed those yet. Or, send a secure message with a photo through the MyUnityPoint patient portal.
8 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to Wearing a Face Mask
“We need to normalize mask wearing – just like we do with other good habits. If we are consistent with our messages, kids will start to understand. This is true for all age groups – even the very youngest of kids. For example, my daughter was not a big fan of pants when she was 2 years old, but we got over that hurdle with persistent messaging,” Dr. White says.
Here are eight ways Dr. White says you can help your child adjust to wearing a face mask:
- Be Consistent. Remind kids to wear their masks, just like you. Encourage them to avoid touching the mask and keep it over their mouth and nose.
- Explain Why. Even very young kids will understand masks are important to help keep everyone safe.
- Personalize. Let your children pick out kid-friendly masks with characters and cool designs or encourage them to decorate their own with things like tie-dye or fabric markers.
- Take a Picture. Snap a photo of your child in a mask and reinforce how awesome he/she looks. You can even opt for a family photo, or simply look in a mirror together. Drawing a self-portrait also works.
- Practice at Home. Get the whole family involved in practicing mask wearing for a day, or a few hours, to get the hang of it. (HOT TIP: Don’t forget to practice eating. That can be tricky.)
- Use Masks in Play. For younger kids, put masks on stuffed animals or dolls during play time.
- See Masks in Action. While it’s still best to avoid public spaces as much as possible, consider taking your child out to a safe space where people are wearing masks to help normalize mask wearing.
- Identify Good Behavior. Point out others who are doing a good job wearing masks.
Why Washing is Important for Cloth Face Masks
When we say washing – we are talking about washing both your hands and your cloth face covering.
“It’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after taking off a face mask. If a child does touch his/her mask while wearing it, it’s important to remind him/her to wash their hands/use hand sanitizer again. There are germs lurking on the outsides of those masks we want to avoid spreading,” Dr. White says.
A mask should also be washed in the washing machine, or by hand, after each use. When putting your mask in the washing machine, wash with the warmest water appropriate for your mask and use regular laundry detergent. It’s OK to air dry or put masks in the dryer. If your child has sensitive skin, wash the mask in gentle, fragrance-free detergent.
Bleach Solution for Hand Washing a Cloth Mask
Did you forget to start the washing machine and it’s late? Here’s a five-minute solution for bleach and water that you can use based on guidance from the CDC.
5 teaspoons of household bleach + 1 gallon of water + soak for 5 minutes
4 teaspoons of household bleach + 1 quart of water + soak for 5 minutes
A Word of Warning – Send Extra Masks
If you’re not going to be with your child during a day of mask wearing – send extras along just in case.
“There are endless scenarios where kids will gunk up masks, either by sneezing, coughing, dropping it on the bathroom floor, touching it with messy hands … the list goes on. The other day, I removed a face mask to check a patient’s mouth and the inside was covered with the remnants of a sucker! I think the best option is to keep a supply of back-up masks on hand – so your child can have options in case of a messy emergency,” Dr. White says.
For more on the coronavirus, please check out our COVID-19 resource page.