As science increasingly points to face masks as the simplest way to help control the spread of COVID-19, it’s clear that we should prepare for this public health initiative to be part of our lives for some time to come.
While most adults can wear face masks for long stretches without trouble, your children — especially young ones — may present more of a challenge. And even for adults, there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to safe, clean mask practices (after all, this is still pretty new for many of us!). With that in mind, we rounded up this list of tips for safe mask wearing at every age.
Some cities, states or businesses are requiring everyone over the age of 3 or 4 to wear a mask, so be sure to know your local rules when deciding where to take little ones. For safety reasons, the CDC recommends that children under 2 do not wear face masks.
Before going out in public, have your kids put on masks at home and practice wearing them safely. This is a new experience for them, and it may take some time for them to get used to wearing a mask without touching or adjusting it.
A too-big mask may work in a pinch, but if you’re going to be spending more time in a setting where masks will be required, it’s worth investing in child-size masks. The better they fit, the better the chance that your little ones will wear them safely.
In order to work effectively and prevent the spread of germs, it’s important to handle masks properly. Wash your hands before you put one on and after you take one off. Make sure your mask is clean and fitted properly to your face, covering you from above the nose to below the chin. If possible, avoid taking it off while you’re out. If you must take it off, remove it by the loops or straps and avoid touching the inside. Fold it in half so the inside is covered, and make sure the inside of your mask doesn’t touch the outside. Try not to wear your mask dangling from an ear or tucked under your chin.
If you’re using cloth masks, put them in the laundry as soon as you get home. Launder masks after each use, either with your regular laundry (use the warmest water appropriate for your mask) or by hand using a bleach solution. The CDC recommends drying your masks on your dryer’s hottest setting or air drying in the sun.
Anticipating that masking will be with us for a while, find a spot near your entryway where you can store clean masks for easy grabbing on the way out the door. Consider a hook or hanger for each person or size of mask so you don’t have to dig around for one that works for you. Add a container or laundry bag near the door to put dirty masks in as soon as you get home. It may also be a good idea to keep a set of backup masks in the car, stroller basket or diaper bag just in case.
Our children’s lives have been so disrupted by the pandemic, and even if they don’t quite understand what’s going on, they may be experiencing stress and anxiety. Mask wearing shouldn’t be scary, so consider treating it as just another accessory, like a car seat or bike helmet. Kids may need frequent reminders to avoid touching their masks or to wear them properly, and that’s OK — we’re all learning together. A gentle reminder or correction can be followed with an invitation to wash your hands together so they understand the importance of good mask hygiene. Buy or make masks in fun prints and treat them as another way to accessorize! When appropriate, a little positive reinforcement — “You’re doing such a great job of keeping your mask on! Thanks for being a helper” — can go a long way. When our children wear face masks, they’re helping protect other people, so let’s encourage them to be healthy heroes!v