UAB offers tips for children wearing masks during the pandemic

UAB offers tips for children wearing masks during the pandemic
UAB Nurse Practitioner Tedra Smith provides insights for caretakers when taking children out in public during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Alicia Rohan/UAB)

As cities and states begin to reopen, people, including children, are being asked to wear masks when out in public. Children may not understand why they have to wear a mask or the right way to wear it.

“Children older than 2 years of age should wear a mask to cover their nose and mouth anytime they are in a public place, including grocery stores, doctor’s appointments or other public venues,” said Tedra Smith, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor in the UAB School of Nursing. “Wearing a mask may be frightening to young children, so preparation and candid conversations before venturing out will help your child as we move into a ‘new normal.’”

Let’s talk about masks

Smith suggests being honest with children and using simple terms they understand as you begin to talk about wearing a mask when out in public. Discuss other things the child may typically do every day to prevent the spread of germs, such as covering their nose and mouth when they cough and avoiding others when they are ill. Explain that the purpose of wearing the mask is to prevent them and others from getting the virus and other germs.

Parents may demonstrate wearing a mask or placing one on a favorite toy so their child can see how the mask will fit.
Smith provides additional tips as parents talk to children:

•   Give the child a chance to ask questions. Provide them with honest responses.
•   Allow the child to sit in your lap, if needed, and use soothing words of comfort.
•   Let the child know it is OK to be afraid of the mask.
•   Allow the child to play with the mask so they can get used to it.
•   Show pictures of other children who are the same age wearing masks out in public to help them feel comfortable and decrease “stereotypes” for wearing a mask.
•   For older children, relate wearing a mask to something they understand. Most older kids understand the concept of spreading germs and the need for preventive measures, such as handwashing.

Fun and comfortable masks for kids

When choosing masks for children, Smith suggests making it work with their personality. Pick a fabric that is kid-friendly, such as their favorite cartoon character, sports team or color. If providing them with a homemade mask, give options so they feel as though they have a choice in what they wear.

“Encourage your child to get involved in selecting and decorating their mask,” Smith said. “Making this a family project will get them excited about their mask and make it more personal.”

When selecting or making a mask, make sure the mask fits the child snugly, particularly around the nose and mouth, and covers the chin. There are several options for no-sew masks made of old T-shirts or bandannas that do not require elastic around the ears.

“Masks with two ties do not require elastic around the ears and tend to cause less discomfort,” Smith said. “If using a mask with elastic around the ear, sew buttons on a hat or head band to secure the mask instead of around the ears. An alternative would be to use a bandanna or scarf around the mouth and nose. This may be less threatening for younger children who may be afraid of the face mask or covering.”

Heading out in public

Before heading out in public, it is important to practice wearing the mask at home before you actually need to wear one. Smith said this will help the child get used to wearing the mask and learn how to wear it properly. A child may find covering their mouth and hiding part of their face frightening, so caretakers may have to explain it a few times.

“Be OK with repetitive questions, and give them time to adjust,” Smith said. “Give them a mask to play with, as it may help decrease their fears.”

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