More than likely, you don’t love wearing your mask. Even more probable? Your kids hate it. But the science is indisputable: face masks save lives. Not only do proper face coverings greatly reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19, but they also protect those around you, and they are the single most important—and easiest—action we can all take to combat this pandemic.
It’s a simple enough concept for adults, but getting kids on board may be another story altogether.
Dr. Annamaria Macaluso Davidson, Associate Vice President of Medical Operations at Memorial Hermann Medical Group, explained that the strategy for helping kids to properly wear their face masks partly depends on the child’s age.
“For younger kids in preschool or kindergarten, it’s hard,” Davidson said. “It’s important for parents to model behavior, and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that families practice wearing them at home before going out in public so children can get accustomed to them.”
Davidson, who also practices at Memorial Hermann Occupational Medicine Cypress, said kids should be encouraged to hold their masks and play with them at home in an effort to familiarize themselves with them. Parents can also buy masks covered in bright colors or popular characters so they are more appealing, and if a child has a favorite toy or stuffed animal, putting the mask on them as an accessory could help normalize mask-wearing, too.
“It’s so helpful for younger kids to see them on others. For example, if they are back in a school setting and all the older students and teachers are wearing masks, that can be very persuasive,” Davidson said.
That same reasoning helps older kids and teens, who may be more inclined to break the rules but also follow trends. While the AAP recommends that all children over two should wear face masks, it is more important in older children. Literature has shown that the spread of infection is less in younger children, but that teens spread infection at similar rates to adults.
“With older kids, reminding them that this won’t last forever can be useful,” Davidson noted. “This is a season; it seems like this is dragging on forever, but it will end one day. Just like the pandemic that occurred about 100 years ago, masks were worn for a period of time, and then the practice eased.”
Davidson also recommended reminding older kids that if everyone wears a mask, life could return to normal a lot sooner.
“Remind them that playing team sports, returning to in-person school or going to events like football games or the prom all depend on people consistently wearing masks,” she said.
Davidson added that while not all face masks are created equal, any face covering is better than nothing. The AAP has said surgical masks or masks with heavy fabric and multiple layers are better than thinner materials. Davidson also noted that neck gaiters are especially popular among older kids and teens because they are comfortable and have been deemed “cool,” and although there has been debate about their efficacy, she said that as long as they cover the nose and the mouth, they should be sufficient in most cases.
“You want to make sure the face covering fits well on the face, tight enough that it doesn’t slip down, and also make sure it covers your nose and your mouth, so ideally it goes under your chin,” she added. “You can also buy cloth masks that have pockets where you can insert charcoal filters.”
For teens who play sports, Davidson said that masks are still encouraged when possible, except during vigorous exercise, and that anyone congregated on the sidelines or in the stands should always wear face coverings.
“If you’re walking by yourself outside, then you don’t need a mask, but if you’re in public settings with lots of people and can’t social distance, masks are helpful,” she added.
Ultimately, just explaining to kids that wearing a mask helps others will resonate with many of them; just like superheroes use the tools and skills they have to save others, we, and our children, can do the same with our actions.
“By wearing our face coverings, we are all helping each other stay healthy,” Davidson said. “That’s the most important message of all.”