Some of our kids are heading back to a brick-and-mortar school soon. For those kids, along with their back-to-school supplies and new school clothes, parents have a new essential back-to-school item to consider: face masks.
We all know how hard it is to get most kids and teens to follow simple hygienic rules like good hand washing and wearing deodorant. As a mom and mental health counselor, I know the idea of getting kids and teens to wear masks for an extended period of time can seem like a daunting task.
I talked with my friend Dr. Thayra Marie Zambrana-Arias, PsyD., who is a clinical psychologist in South Florida, for ideas on how to explain to kids the importance of wearing a mask at school.
Here are our five tips on how to help your child adjust to wearing a mask:
1. Talk to them
A brief and age-appropriate talk with your kids about why it's important to wear a mask — to keep from spreading germs and to keep us and others safe — is important. Explain how to wear a mask — keeping it over both their mouth and nose — so they use them properly.
2. Get them used to masks before school starts
If your kids don't have much experience with wearing masks, you'll want to get them used to wearing them for a few hours at a time before that first bell rings. You can start by having kids wear the mask a little at a time and gradually increase the time over a few days and weeks. For example, for the first few days have them wear a mask for just 5 to 10 minutes. Those 5 to 10 minutes are a lifetime for a preschooler — and even for some teens. Make mask-wearing a daily habit. Even if you are at home you can still practice wearing masks for short periods of time.
3. Introduce masks in play
Younger kids can put masks on their favorite doll or stuffed animal, or pretend to be a doctor or nurse while wearing their masks. Help them set up a school for their stuffed animals with masks! This kind of play can help younger kids with the idea that wearing a mask is something everyone does.
4. Let them pick out their own masks
Let kids and teens pick out masks with colors and prints that fit their style. If choosing a disposable mask, they can get creative and personalize it. My son is obsessed with loud, bright colors so he prefers masks that are blindingly vivid.
5. Think about your own attitude
Kids learn a lot from observing others. How parents and those around them react to wearing masks will greatly affect how willing your kids are to wearing masks when they need to.
We all want our children and teens to remain healthy, happy, and safe as they head back to school in this uncertain time. For more information on masks and other face coverings visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maricarmen Chavez-Walker, MS, Mental Health Counselor, is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Lakeland - Bartow - Mulberry, Fla.