With the school season rapidly approaching, parents find themselves facing the fact that a face mask will be required in their child’s dress code come fall. Unfortunately, some parents have been struggling with younger children who don’t want to wear masks while out in public and are desperate to find helpful methods to get their kids to acclimate to this necessary coronavirus safety measure.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump initiated an administration-wide push to open elementary and secondary schools, and even though teachers are in disagreement that K-12 schools should reopen, McClatchy News reports, parents are worried about younger children who have been struggling with wearing masks day in and out.
Amanda Alcantar, a stay-at-home mother of three in California, told McClatchy News that she seemed to have hit a wall when explaining to her 7-year-old daughter, Audrey, that she would have to wear a mask all day when and if schools reopen. “She cried,” Alcantar said. “She said she can’t wear them especially over her nose all day because she doesn’t feel like she can breathe. She broke down and cried for a half hour over it.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory mask order for all Californians on June 18 and state officials are still it the process of debating whether students will be required to wear them if schools reopen, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Here are some helpful hints from professionals about ways to help your children understand and get used to wearing masks for a long period of time.
Practice makes perfect
Children’s Minnesota suggests that it’s helpful for young children to practice seeing masks as a more common fixture in their lives, so parents might start by having their child wear a mask around the house or even put them on their toys, like a stuffed animal or a doll.
Kids Health from Nemours also echoes this sentiment.
“As much as you can, give kids time to practice wearing their masks before they might need to wear one outside of your home,” their website reads. “Teach them how to put them on take them off.”
Alcantar expressed that while she’s reluctant to take her children out in public for more than small amounts of time, she says having them put on the masks while running small errands like going to the grocery store helps them see the new normalcy with others wearing them.
“They don’t like wearing them at home, but being in the store, it’s been better because they see others doing it,” Alcantar said.
Acknowledge their annoyance
Parents sometimes tend to scoff at their kids’s common annoyances, like being fussy over not wanting to clean up their room or eat all their vegetables at dinner. But when it comes to face masks, parents should keep an open mind and listen to their children.
“You can’t just flip a switch,” said Bob Farrace, public affairs director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, to the Washington Post. “Schools need to start well in advance by getting kids used to masks in a comfortable, secure environment.”
While parents are getting creative in ways to teach their younger children to wear masks, the Post points out that children are becoming more and more annoyed, but stick with it.
“I think we underestimate kids’ capacity for understanding,” teacher Laura Balzotti told the Post. “If we just take the time to break down ideas for them, especially with visuals, they get it.”
Dr. Katherine Shedlock, a pediatrician at Penn State Children’s Hospital, says that reassuring your child is essential.
“Validating their feelings is really important, letting them know, ‘I understand that it makes you upset and makes you angry... I don’t like the situation either, but we’re going to get through this,” she told KVEO. “This is not forever, it’s just for right now. And so hopefully soon, we won’t have to wear these anymore, but to get to that point we all have to do our part and wear a mask.”
The superhero method
If superheroes can wear masks, so can small children, according to Cook Children’s Health Care System.
“Since superheroes wear masks, this is a chance for all children to play the part of a superhero when going to the doctor, or going out for a walk or bike ride, etc.,” Cook’s website says. This includes heading off to school when autumn rolls around.
“Masks can sometimes make your face itchy and hot,” teacher Casey Zebell told their 3-and-4-year-old students via Zoom, according to the Post, but “superheroes wear them every day!”
Practice what you, the adult, preaches
Parents can demonstrate good mask behavior by showing their children that it’s perfectly normal to wear them everywhere.
“If you wear your mask properly over your nose and mouth, your kids are more likely to emulate that behavior,” Shedlock said.