As more and more states relax their restrictions, parents are now finding themselves in the predicament of whether or not to take their children outside to public places. But an even greater issue might now become more relevant: how to get your child to wear a face mask. It’s not an easy feat by any means, and it’s going to take some know-how in order to make your child feel comfortable and safe wearing one.
Since face masks are probably going to be a part of public life for quite a while, it’s important that your child learns how to wear theirs sooner rather than later. “If kids ask why masks are needed, parents should be honest and explain what’s happening,” Dr. Neha Chaudhary, child & adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Celebrity Parents.
Still, knowing that they have to wear one might not make it any easier to get your child to put one on. If you’re struggling to get your child to wear a face mask, these tips just might turn them into a masked marvel.
Understand Your Audience
The conversation you have with your kiddo regarding face masks can vary greatly depending on their age. While you might talk about infection rates with a teenager, you don’t want to necessarily speak about hospitalization and ventilators with your 5 year-old. That’s why you’ll need to consider exactly what you say to your little sweetie. “Vary the discussion about why masks are needed based on the age of the child,” says Dr. Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., A.T.R.-BC, Associate Director Public Education and Bereavement at Child HELP Partnership. “For example, for young children talk about it keeping people extra healthy, to keep germs away we wash our hands and wear masks outside. And for older children and teens you can have a discussion about caring for other people, being responsible, and ask what they are seeing on social media or in the news and talk about it.”
Focus On Feelings
Seeing people walking around in masks can be just as scary for adults as it can be for kids. So you shouldn’t dismiss your child’s worries about being out in public wearing a mask. “You may need to give extra support to a child who is fearful perhaps about going outside or by the mask itself,” advises Dr. Goodman. “Help them problem solve and cope with any worried feelings by validating their feelings.” Once you’ve given them ample opportunity to talk about their fears, then you start strategizing about ways to make them feel better and safer about going outside.
Help Them Role Play
If your child is showing fears about wearing a mask, you can always allow them to role play to build up their confidence. “For younger or school age children who may be afraid, let them put one on a doll or stuffed animal,” says Dr. Goodman. It will allow your child to feel more in control of the situation and help them to realize that wearing a mask isn’t as frightening as they might have thought.
Your child might not want to wear a mask because, well, they’re not all that interesting. Many of the disposable ones look like something you might wear in a hospital, and that doesn’t exactly make it exciting to wear. So get crafty, momma, because you’ll need to do a DIY on your child’s face mask. For example, you might put stickers on it or color it, depending on what material it’s made from.
Make It Fun
Let’s say that your child fights you every time you ask them to wear a mask. Stop the power struggle by switching up the game and, well, turning it into one. “The easiest way to get kids to wear masks is to turn it into a game and something that they look forward to,” advises Dr. Chaudhary. “Kids can pretend to be their favorite superhero and come up with a new name that they go by when they have their mask on.” You can even offer a reward Parents could make it a contest of who keeps their mask on longest, making sure to praise and or reward kids who comply.
Do A Dry Run
Although you might want to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather and be outside for hours, your child might not be able to last that long with a face mask on. So if your kid is already cranking about having to wear one, it might be best to keep your outing short and sweet to start. “Families can go for shorter mask-on walks in quieter areas to test out what it’s like,” says Dr. Chaudhary. “Then, you can build up to longer times.” The goal is to keep your child comfortable wearing the mask without overdoing it.
Be A Good Role Model
When it comes to your child, it really is monkey see, monkey do. So if you constantly complain about having to wear a mask (or worse, go outside to a public place where you can’t properly social distance without one), your child isn’t going to want to wear one, either. So mirror positive behavior for your fam and wear your mask as well. “For younger kids, probably the most important step is for you to wear the mask yourself,” advises Dr. Cara Natterson, MD, a pediatrician and founder of Worry Proof Consulting and author of Decoding Boys. “Kids do as we do, not as we say, especially preschool and young elementary school aged kids.” Wearing your own mask can be all the difference in getting your child to wear theirs.
Sure, it might be tempting to wear your mask occasionally, but in order to get your kiddo to wear theirs every time you go outside, you’ll need to be consistent. “Be consistent in its use,” says Dr. Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., a pediatrician with Ikon Health. “And then provide positive feedback when the child wears the mask appropriately.”
While it might take a while before your child gets used to wearing a face mask, eventually it will become just as routine as putting their shoes on before they go outside. And then, one day soon, they hopefully won’t need them anymore.
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