When children eventually return to a classroom, they will likely be required to wear a face mask.
Of course both kids and adults have been wearing masks for months. But that means it’s a good time to check in with our children about them, says Shannon Joslin, a certified child life specialist with the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.
“How are they are feeling wearing a mask?” Joslin asks. While these facial coverings have become our new normal, “there is nothing normal about this,” she says. And they can prompt a variety of feelings.
For some kids these new requirements are hard, and it’s important for parents to acknowledge that “it stinks.”
“Parents can agree that we don’t have to be happy with what’s going on now,” Joslin says. “But we still have to comply and be safe.”
Why we wear them
First, parents should make sure that kids understand why everyone is wearing a mask, Joslin says. Undoubtedly, they see others around them in masks and older children readily comprehend why. But younger children may need to hear again that masks protect both ourselves and the people around us.
Kids also need to understand “it’s a rule now,” she says. Parents can talk about the places where masks are required, such as at the pool, she says. And they can talk about how kids will participate in their regular activities with a mask. If a mask is required for a child’s soccer practice, for example, have him or her practice taking some shots in the backyard while wearing a mask.
Next, kids need to know how to wear a mask correctly so that it covers both mouth and nose. Have children try out different masks at home to find the ones that are most comfortable, she says. Some masks are better outdoors, kids may find; some are better in hotter weather.
How to pick one
Most kids prefer masks with elastic ear loops rather than ties. However, some kids find the elastic loops uncomfortable after a period of time. In that case, Joslin has this pro tip: Sew buttons on a cloth headband that your child can wear. Then attach the elastic loops around those buttons rather than your child’s ears.
The fun, no-sew pro tip: The red plastic monkeys from the timeless kids’ game Barrel of Monkeys also can be used to hold the elastic loops of a mask in place behind the head.
Masks should be washed each day after school, so most kids need to have at least two to three masks. Luckily, many retailers, such as Old Navy and Target, offer packs of inexpensive masks. Crayola recently created a back-to-school mask set with funny faces and vivid colors; there are superhero masks, too. Kids can feel ownership by choosing their masks and helping to clean them every day, Joslin says.
“These are simple ways to normalize the experience,” she says.
Masks can be either hand or machine washed in hot water, and then hung up to dry, she says.
Another tip: Identify places where it’s safe for kids to be without a mask, so they know to look for those places and times when they need a break, Joslin says.
Finally, Joslin says, parents should know they are not alone in any of this. “Every parent is doing the best they can,” she says. They are stressed; their kids could be stressed, too. Keep talking, she says. “You can say, ‘this is really hard. I can use a hug right now. How about you?”