News | Published August 10, 2020 | Written by Robert S. Huffard, MD, pediatrics, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Back to school: Tips for helping children wear masks

We’re in the full swing of summer, which believe it or not means the new school year is now just around the corner. Though the course of the virus could alter plans, right now many schools plan to reopen with at least some in person operations. To help keep our community safe, it’s important that kids wear their masks when they go back to school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children over the age of two who are able to remove a mask on their own wear a mask/cloth face covering when in public settings. This includes both indoor and outdoor locations and is especially important when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Though there are rare instances of severe multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children linked to the novel coronavirus, in general children are not at as high a risk of illness from COVID-19. However, this sets them up to be potential “silent spreaders” of the disease, meaning they are asymptomatic, but infected and can pass the disease on to others who may become more severely ill. Evidence has linked children to disease spread so it is important children wear their masks, especially in a social setting like school, to help slow the transmission of COVID-19.

But wearing a mask can be confusing and scary for children. Here are some tips to make it easier for them to wear their masks.

Explain why it’s important. Be honest and put your explanation in terms they can understand. Share that wearing a mask is a way to stop germs from spreading. Tell them wearing a mask helps keep everyone safe and share that by wearing a mask, they are being a hero.

Help them get used to masks. Give kids time to practice wearing their mask around the house before they need to wear it in public. Teach them how to put them on and take them off properly. With a mask on both you and your child, look in a mirror and talk about them. Show your child pictures of other children wearing masks so they see they’re not alone.

Model the behavior. If you’re asking your child to wear a mask, you should be wearing one too. Kids will follow your example so show them when and how to wear a mask. It’s important to show empathy with them while still enforcing the action.

Make them together. If you’re making masks at home, let your child help you. There are no-sew options that are easy to make from materials you probably already have, like t-shirts and bandanas. If you sew masks, let your child pick the pattern for the masks they’ll wear.

Encourage kids to decorate their mask. Letting kids provide a personal touch to their mask will instill a sense of ownership and make them more likely to want to wear their mask. Depending on the type of mask, kids can draw on it with markers or put stickers on it.

Incorporate masks into play time. This allows kids to use their imagination and also makes masks a more normal part of their world. You can prompt your child to put a mask on a stuffed animal and ask them why it’s wearing the mask. This will also give you a chance to clear up any confusion and offer reassurance.

Remember that a proper fit is key. Pleated face coverings with elastic are likely to work best for kids. The mask should securely cover their nose and mouth. Children should be reminded to wash their hands before and after wearing their mask and to avoid touching it once it’s on their face. Cloth masks should be washed each time after they are worn.

This has been a challenging time for all of us, and definitely for our children. Use these tips to help children understand the importance of wearing their mask, wear their mask properly, and become more accustomed to the safety measure. Wearing masks is an essential part of a safe return to school and going back to school is important for their overall development.

For more information on how Mount Nittany Health is committed to the healthy growth and development of our community’s children, please visit kids.mountnittany.org.

Robert Huffard, MD, is a provider with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics. Dr. Huffard sees patients at both the Mount Nittany Health—Bellefonte and Mount Nittany Health—Boalsburg locations.