Although children are less likely than adults to become severely ill from COVID-19, they are still at risk of getting and spreading the virus. Wearing a face mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent this.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children 2 and older wear masks over their noses, mouths, and chins whenever they’re outside the home — or when people from outside the home come to visit. But persuading children to wear masks can present challenges.
Angelica Ha, MD, a pediatrician and assistant physician in chief for Kaiser Permanente, shares strategies for encouraging kids of all ages.
It’s difficult for toddlers to understand the importance of wearing a mask, so making it nonnegotiable, like wearing a bike helmet, is key.
“Explain that it protects against germs and helps keep other people healthy,” said Dr. Ha, a mother of 2.
To help inspire a positive attitude, engage your little ones in choosing masks by letting them pick their favorite color or pattern.
A properly fitting mask is also important. Try a cloth mask with an adjustable nose bridge and ear straps, which allow for a tighter fit over the nose, mouth, and under the chin. This helps prevent your child from fussing or wanting to take the mask off.
Be a role model. When children see their parents and family members wearing masks, they will want to follow suit and will begin to understand it’s the new normal. If your child resists, try positive reinforcement.
“You can tell them that if they want to go to their favorite place or do a favorite activity, they need to wear a mask,” Dr. Ha said.
Teenagers tend to think they are invincible, explained Dr. Ha. Many don’t personally know someone who has gotten sick from COVID-19, so the pandemic may not seem dangerous to them.
“Get them to understand that they are part of a larger community,” she said. “Data has shown that teens want to do the right thing for their community.”
Encouraging teenagers to do their own research about COVID-19 can also be helpful. Direct them to reliable information sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and Kaiser Permanente websites.
Wearing a mask should always be combined with other preventive measures, including frequent hand-washing, maintaining 6 feet of distance from people outside the home, and limiting in-person hangouts.
Parents should also practice preventive planning by avoiding situations where masks are needed for long periods of time and not bringing younger children along when running errands, if possible.
On a final note, Dr. Ha stresses the importance of open communication with children about the pandemic. Let them know everyone is adapting and learning during this challenging time, and the most important thing is to protect themselves and others.
Learn more about protecting your family from COVID-19.