Young girl wearing a protective mask States across the nation are now mandating face masks be worn in public by adults and children. Face masks are one essential tool in our national battle to control the spread of COVID-19. Research has proven face coverings and physically distancing have a significant positive impact on disease transmission rates.

But, as any parent can tell you, getting your child to obey rules they don't like or don't understand can be challenging. Kids are social creatures. They want to be close to each other, see each other's faces and often feel the need to touch everything!

To help your child better understand — and comply — with the new rules, Susan Coffin, MD, MPH, an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, offers some strategies you can start now so your children are more prepared for school and daycare — in whatever forms they take.

Not all masks provide effective protection against COVID-19. All masks should have two layers of cloth that fit tightly over your nose and mouth. It is also important to wear your mask properly, covering both your mouth and nose.

Effective Masks and Masking: Cloth Masks and Medical Masks. Masks must cover both nose and mouth.
Ineffective Masks and Masking: Bandanas, Neck Gators, Valved Masks. Wearing mask with nose, or both nose and mouth exposed is also ineffective.

Practice now

If you've been staying close to home this summer, your kids may not have had to wear masks on any regular basis. Now is the time to train your children to get used to wearing a mask — and wearing it properly. What's the right way? Over both their nose and their mouth at all times. Don't pull it down to sneeze, push it up to eat or drink or continually adjust it. Have your child talk, sing and jump up and down in their mask before leaving the house to ensure it is secure.

For younger kids, consider making a game out of who can wear their mask the longest without touching it. You can practice while taking a walk, going to the playground or the grocery store. Stuffed animals and dolls can also practice mask wearing! Remind them to put the mask back on when they forget. For younger children, many reminders may be needed.

Masks are not recommended for children younger than age 2. Instead, keep very young children at home when possible.

When you're back home, encourage your kids to talk about what they saw. Were other people wearing masks? Were both their nose and mouth covered? Talk about what you did when you saw a person not wearing their mask properly. Did you cross the street, walk another way or remind them to cover up? It may be OK for your kids to remind their friends to wear masks properly.

Give your child choices

Most kids are more willing to follow the rules when they have some choices. One easy choice is which mask to wear. Masks come in a variety of styles, patterns, fabrics and fits. Does your child prefer ear straps or a tie in the back? Which can they put on and take off without help? Compliment their mask choice: “I love your mask! Do you like mine?”

If your family has multiple cloth masks for each family member, make sure to regularly clean the mask (or masks) your child is more cooperative wearing. Ensure each mask fits your child properly and is not visibly soiled. Don't let siblings share masks between washings — it spreads germs faster from one to the other — even if they all live in the same house. If both of your kids love the same style/pattern/fabric mask, buy multiples and label them.

Allow mask breaks

It takes time to get used to wearing a mask all day. To help children remain compliant, talk to them about mask breaks and when it might be appropriate to take one. For example, if you’re running errands with your child, you can suggest a short mask break when you are outside and a safe distance away from other people.

Regularly clean masks

No one wants to wear a smelly or damp mask. To better encourage compliance with mask wearing, ensure you regularly launder cloth masks and dispose of paper masks. Remember to remove any filters from the masks before throwing them in the wash and allow masks to dry completely before use.

Face shields as an alternative

For young children still developing language skills, face shields may be a viable alternative for both teachers and children alike. With the clear shield, children can see and mimic mouth movements for sounds and letters as they learn. Face shields may also be helpful for deaf and hard-of-hearing children who rely on lip reading and facial cues to understand others around them.

Working together

COVID-19 continues to be a serious public health threat, despite many states and counties partially reopening. To minimize risk and exposure for our most vulnerable residents, we all need to do our part. Wearing masks may be a minor inconvenience to our lives today, but if we all do it, the long-term benefits can be immense: fewer infections, fewer critically ill people, and ultimately, fewer deaths from COVID-19.

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Susan E. Coffin, MD, MPH, is an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She has been leading safety measures at CHOP during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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