How do you talk to your kids about wearing a mask?
As back-to-school season quickly creeps up on us, there is constant conversation around what in-person education will look like. Concerns over how to keep students, teachers and staff safe and healthy are certainly a driving force in the enactment of practices to prevent or lessen the spread of germs. One such effort will be universal masking, which can be hard for children to understand.
In advance of the school year, what can parents do to impress upon children the importance of not only wearing a mask but leaving it on?
“You start with a conversation,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “Ask your child how they feel about it. You may be surprised to learn your child is okay with it. Still, others may be angry.”
She explains that by asking children how they feel about having to wear a mask and the concerns they may have around it, parents can help.
“Start with where they are. You can then problem solve their concerns in advance. They may worry about things like, ‘What if my mask gets wet?’ or ‘What if I feel like taking my mask off?’ Go through how they might be able to handle those situations while at school so your child feels prepared when the time comes.”
If your child is struggling to wear a mask or to keep it on for long stretches of time, Dr. Roberts recommends practicing at home before the start of the school year. She emphasizes that the practice doesn’t have to feel like a chore.
“Practice can be fun by making a game out of it with challenges and prizes. Younger children might enjoy role playing with their stuffed animals. Adults should participate too to set a good example.”
She also suggests that children may enjoy choosing or creating their masks. “When resources permit, allowing children to choose masks they enjoy wearing or even decorating plain masks with fabric markers may help them to feel more control and ownership of the process. Crafty families can even endeavor to try mask-making as a family activity.”
Dr. Roberts stresses the importance of reinforcing the narrative that this isn’t permanent, although it may feel like it right now.
“Remind your child they’re doing their part to help everyone and that we should continue doing everything we can to be safe,” she says. “They’re important, and they serve an important role in all of this.”
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.