How to Get Your Child to Wear a Mask

A pediatric psychologist weighs in on continued masking for kids
child with masked teddy bear looking out window

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, you may be struggling to maintain masking momentum and other pandemic-related precautions.

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With variants on the rise, some places — including businesses and schools — are re-instituting masking rules that they’d begun to loosen. And in mid-July, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all school staff and students older than age 2 years face masks when returning to school this fall.

If your child attends a school that mandates continued face covering, you may be wondering how to keep up the masking momentum. Child psychologist Emily Mudd, PhD, weighs in.

Explain why masking matters

“Sustained behavior change is challenging for anyone, and at this point, children and adults alike may be dealing with burnout related to pandemic precautions,” Dr. Mudd says.

To help children better grasp the importance of masking, relate the practice to other lifesaving measures behaviors that your child does every day — for example, wearing a seatbelt or a helmet, looking both ways before crossing a street, and so on.

“Although these behaviors take a little more time, they are worth it to save lives,” Dr. Mudd says. “Wearing a mask is similar to these behaviors, which is why we cannot stop now, when variants are spreading.”

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Make masking more fun

To improve the success of your child wearing a mask in public, it helps to desensitize them at home.

“Keep your kid enthusiastic about wearing a mask by engaging them in the process,” Dr. Mudd says. “Make it fun!” She shares five tips for doing so.

1. Customize your own masks

Give kids a mask they can decorate, which will increase the chance that they’ll wear it. Purchase a neutral-colored mask, and let your child decorate it however they wish — with drawing, glitter, stickers, or anything they like.

“Create at least two to three different masks so your child can pick which one they would like to wear for the day,” Dr. Mudd says. “This provides a choice for your children, in a situation where they may feel they have little control.”

2. Make masks a part of play

Put extra masks in your child’s play area so they are accustomed to having them around. You can also encourage your child to put masks on their dolls or action hero figurines, reinforcing to your child that they too are a superhero for stopping the spread of germs.

3. Play doctor.

Have your child play doctor and let them put the mask on you. “Make it fun and introduce masks to your child as much as possible in their everyday play,” Dr. Mudd says.

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4. Be a good role model.

Children look to adults to model appropriate behavior. If you are wearing your mask, your child will follow your lead.

5. Continue to normalize masking.

“Children thrive on structure and predictability, so make wearing a mask part of their everyday routine,” Dr. Mudd says.

Just as your child is accustomed to getting dressed and brushing their teeth before leaving the house, so too can masking become a part of their daily processes — not an additional or burdensome task but simply another thing to do before leaving the house.

Taking steps like these can help your family avoid mask fatigue and continue to stay safe throughout the continuing pandemic. “We have to reduce the fear associated with masks — that they’re abnormal or that something is wrong,” Dr. Mudd says. “Instead, we need to help children understand that masks are just part of daily life now.”

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