As schools work on plans to safely reopen and more in-person activities become available, there will be more occasions where children will need to wear masks. Many parents are concerned that their child will refuse to or even take their mask off during the day. How can parents encourage and maintain mask wearingwhen they struggle with this at home? This is a question I’ve been hearing from clients, friends, and the community.
Here are some ways to get your child there:
Tell them why. Do just tell your child that they need to wear a mask without telling them why. Keep the conversation developmentally appropriate. For example: “There is a virus/bug/germ in the air, and it can go from our body to someone’s body when we cough, spit, talk or sneeze too close to someone else.” Explain this, then answer their questions.
Model it. Children are more likely to follow actions that their parents and those around them engage in. Lead by example.
Start to practice at home and in increments. Children want to feel successful and receive praise for something new. Start wearing masks at home in increments. For example, start with 5 minutes and pick times of the day to start, such as first thing in the morning or right after lunch.
Let this be part of your rules. In order to keep everyone safe, we all have to wear a mask. Younger children especially understand when you frame this as a rule.
Be creative and allow for choices. Children like to be in control of their decisions. Provide a variety of masks to choose from. Be creative and allow them to design their masks. Think of this mask as part of your child’s wardrobe. Make a matching mask for your child’s stuffed animal or doll.
Be flexible for kids who have sensory challenges. Create a safe space with social distance if your child needs to adjust or remove the mask for a short period of time.
Use positive reinforcement. Treat mask wear as you would any other behavior you’d like to see again. This will increase the likelihood your child will automatically wear the mask the next day.
Reena B. Patel (LEP, BCBA) is a Southern California-based parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst.