Kids Afraid Of Face Masks Just Need Some Extra Reassurance, Experts Say
Getting your child to do something that they don't want to do can be quite challenging, and this is especially true when they're scared. But what if what they're frightened of is necessary to keep them safe? These tips for when your kid is afraid of face masks can help reassure them that even though a mask might look scary, wearing one helps to keep everyone healthy.
In many places around the world, masks are now required attire when in public to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Dr. Lindsay Clukies, a Washington University emergency room physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, tells Romper that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends cloth face covers in public, there is one caveat for children under age 2.
"It is important to note that masks of any kind should not be used on children less than 2 years of age, due to the risk of possible suffocation," Clukies says. "For children above age 2, the mask should cover the mouth and nose and shouldn't be touched when worn. Make sure the mask fits snug on your child's face, but not tight enough to restrict breathing."
Once you make sure your appropriately-aged child is equipped with a properly-fitted mask, the battle may become convincing them to wear it or even brave outings when they're scared of others wearing masks. Read on for tips to help you child feel more comfortable with face coverings.
1. Give Them Superhero Powers
Dr. Jill Grimes, a board-certified family physician who currently practices in Austin, Texas, tells Romper that your kids may be more inclined to wear a mask if you frame the task as something that gives them superpowers like their favorite hero. "Kids know nearly all superheroes wears masks, so parents can talk about how wearing a mask helps give us the superpower to fight against COVID-19 and other germs like the flu," she says.
If your child is scared of someone else wearing a mask, this same tactic can also be used. Simply tell your child that any person who wears a mask is being a superhero by helping others stay healthy.
2. Use Secret Code Words
Another way to make wearing a mask feel more appealing to your kids is to come up with secret code words about mask-wearing. This can help them not only feel like they're playing a game while they have a face covering on, but help remind them not to touch it — which, second to being fearful of masks, is a monumental challenge to overcome.
"It’s super (pun intended) hard to avoid touching your face or the mask on your face, so having a code word to remind kids- like 'super' can call their attention to this," Grimes tells Romper. "Even better, that code word should not only mean 'don’t touch your mask,' but give your hands an alternate task, like snapping two times."
3. Get On Their Level
Kids usually understand more than you think they might, and even if they're scared of masks, explaining how crucial these are to everyone's health and safety can help. Deanna Crosby, a family therapist and clinical director at New Method Wellness, tells Romper that when it comes to helping kids overcome fears, "It is important to be aligned with their developmental stage."
Dr. Kelsey Borner, a pediatric pain psychologist at Children's National Hospital tells Romper that focusing on "simple language" and providing only "essential information" is best for younger children. "Tell them that wearing a mask helps to keep them and other people safe, because properly wearing a mask helps to limit germs that are often spread through coughing or sneezing, and germs can make people sick," she says.
4. Implement A Reward System
Just like with potty training or sleep training, a reward system can help to encourage your child to do something even when they are afraid. Plenty of kids overcome their fears of the "big potty" or learn to sleep with only a small night light despite being scared of the dark because their parents come up with a small gift or reward to give them when they actually follow through.
Clukies says parents can use a similar strategy to encourage kids to keep their masks on in public. For example, if they wear their mask despite being afraid, they can have a special treat when you get home.
5. Give Them Choices
When my kids were toddlers and hated putting on clothes, I found that giving them a choice about what to wear helped make the entire process less stressful. If your child is afraid to wear a mask, the same principle can help encourage them to. "Children love choices," Crosby tells Romper. "If they got to decorate two or three different masks, they could then choose which mask they want to wear for that particular outing."
6. Make Homemade Masks Together
If your child seems afraid of wearing a mask, Clukies recommends parents get their kids involved in the mask-making process and "make it fun" for your kiddos. "There are multiple tutorials online that explain how to make homemade masks out of T-shirts or other materials," she tells Romper. "Children may enjoy using fabric with their favorite characters or sports teams, etc. You may want to let them pick out an old T-shirt to use and invite them to help create or decorate the mask."
7. Be A Good Role Model
Borner tells Romper that parents can model wearing a mask in order to help kids overcome their fears of facial coverings. "Kids are more likely to wear masks when they see parents doing it, too — parents should wear masks whenever they ask kids to be wearing masks," she says.
8. Explain How They're Helping Others
"Children have a natural tendency to want to help others," Crosby says. "Let them know how much they are helping their communities just by wearing masks."
If your kid is afraid of wearing a mask, they might be less nervous if they understand how wearing a mask is helping other people stay safe. Additionally, if your child is scared of seeing people who wear masks while out and about, knowing that these face coverings are helping ensure their safety can help, too.
"Discussing the importance of keeping other people safe during this time is a great way to encourage children to be compassionate and understanding of other peoples feelings," Clukies tells Romper.
9. Practice Makes Perfect
"Allow your child to become comfortable with the mask by praciticing at home," Borner tells Romper. "Seeing other people wearing masks may be scary, and your child’s resistance to wearing a mask may be out of fear or discomfort."
Pretend play at home can also work to encourage kids to use masks. "It may be helpful to practice by putting masks on stuffed animals or dolls or playing pretend and imagining reasons why you and your child are wearing masks (they are a super-hero, a chef, a doctor)," Borner says.
10. Use Positive Reinforcement
Once you have convinced your child that it's not so scary to wear a mask, continuing to use positive words to cheer them on while they wear it can help them feel even more comfortable. Plus, it can help them continue to practice proper hygiene when wearing the mask.
"Research shows us that children who are positively praised do better," Crosby tells Romper. "Be sure to let your child know what a good job they are doing when they are not touching their faces or moving their masks, then gently remind them if they do."
11. Make It A Game
When wearing a mask can be made into a game instead of safety mandate, it can quickly go from scary to exciting for kids.
"Another fun tactic is to make a game out of not touching or moving their masks," Crosby says. "We all remember the 'quiet game' that our over-exhausted caregivers came up with — the same idea can be applied to the mask situation. Lots of praise for the winner of the who didn’t touch or move their mask game."
12. Don't Be Too Hard On Them
"These are difficult times for everyone, including children," Clukies tells Romper. "If your child is afraid of wearing a mask, you don't want to push too hard."
Although it is required for kids of certain ages in some areas, Clukies reminds parents that when it comes to staying safe when in public, social distancing and hand-washing is key. "The most important thing is to stay at least 6 feet away from other people and to practice thorough hand hygiene," she says.
Dr. Lindsay Clukies, Washington University emergency room physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital
Deanna Crosby, associate marriage and family therapist, clinical director at New Method Wellness
Dr. Jill Grimes, board-certified family physician
Dr. Kelsey Borner, pediatric pain psychologist at Children’s National Hospital