Convincing your Toddler to Wear a Face Mask

Face coverings are crucial in keeping yourself and your neighbors safe, but some little ones are having trouble coming around to the idea. If your toddler is finicky about face masks, these tips sourced from PSP members might do the trick!

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Understand the psychological basis behind the reluctance. The New York Times explains that children don't reach adult skill levels in recognizing faces until they're about 14, and that children younger than 6 tend to pay attention to individual features rather than recognizing the person as a whole. That means kids may have trouble recognizing friends and loved ones with a mask on. Masks also make it harder for children to read emotional cues, especially if they are on the autism spectrum, have ADHD, or experience social anxiety. All of this, coupled with general worries about illness and things seeming scary/different, can lead to layers of fear and discomfort around masks.

To address these concerns, put your mask on and take it off a few times in front of your child to show them that it's still you and familiarize them with the sight of you in a mask. To overcome the emotional disconnect, speak extra clearly and carefully to your child when you're wearing your mask, and sit down with them to practice reading facial expressions and emotions using just each other's eyes. Wear masks around the house to normalize them, praise children for asking questions, and remind them that they can always check back in if additional questions come up. For more on the psychological background and tips for addressing it, check out the full article here.

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Turn it into a fun dress-up game. All you need for an animal mask is some sticky foam, pipe cleaners, or construction paper and packing tape for the nose and whiskers! Ninja and superhero looks are also easy to pull off, especially if you have a cape and a mask with a superhero print (like Batman) on it. Or, if they like to play doctor, throw a toy stethoscope into the mix and they’ll be good to go. You can connect all of this back to the real world by explaining that doctors and nurses are our superheros right now, and we can be superheros too by wearing masks and protecting the people around us from germs.

Make masks into an exciting family activity. You could sew or purchase matching masks for everyone, and then make a big deal of unveiling them and trying them on together. This also gives you a chance to practice wearing the masks around the house and get used to them before you venture outside with them on. 

Pick out some stylish, toddler-sized masks in a print they’ll love. Etsy has tons of options, and commercial retailers are getting into the mask-making game as well. PSP members recommend these shops:

  • CutSewFast on Etsy
  • OvercomeGoods on Etsy: “The kids also love their superhero themed ones that we bought on Etsy. They are a little thicker which is nice but I find the kids play with and adjust those masks more. If your kid really loves a certain character a themed mask might entice them to wear it.”
  • ilandistyle on Etsy
  • StrawberryAvocados on Etsy: “I've put them through the washing machine a bunch and they wash really well. Of the three I got off Etsy, these are definitely the best. And they come in a pack of 2!”
  • Joah Love: “My kids (5.5 and 3) love the masks from Joah Love. They call them Ninja masks. Considering they fight most clothes (jackets, long sleeves, sun hats, just putting on some damn pants) I was pleasantly surprised that they keep their masks on when they’re outside. The bigger drama is getting my 3 year old to NOT wear the mask in the car. We have the black ones with neon trim and the star ones. The black material is really soft.”
  • Très Cher
  • abacaxi-nyc
  • Cash and Della: “They have a wire over the nose for comfort and snug fit and you can wash them in the laundry. They're pretty heavy, so I have to take it off to breathe more comfortably when I am exerting myself (like pushing a running stroller up the Slope, but I'm also out of shape) and I remove my kid's when he is running around in the park, but we're very happy with them for walks or sitting outside, grocery shopping, etc. I think she's running about a 2-week lead time right now.”
  • Or try a mask alternative: “My daughter won't keep a mask on so we've been using this bucket hat with a face shield when we go outside and she tolerates it.”

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Make sure the mask is extra comfy. You can make a simple mask by cutting up a super-soft old t-shirt, folding it, and using 1-inch strips cut from old pairs of tights for the ear pieces. For store-bought or homemade masks, adjustable elastics can also help ensure that your kid has a snug and comfortable fit. 

Be firm and straightforward about the need for a mask. Depending on the age of your child, it can be effective to explain honestly about germs and the fact that they could get sick or get others sick if they go out without a mask. Even if they don’t fully grasp what’s going on, it’s often helpful to let them know why the mask is important so they don’t feel like it’s just a random order from on high.

Lead by example. Young kids are likely to still think you’re cool enough to mimic, so be diligent about wearing your own mask around them. This also helps normalize the mask, as does walking around outside and letting them see that lots of other kids and adults are wearing one as well. And if you’re personally experiencing stress around wearing the mask, this video may help: “Understanding panic sensations/symptoms in context of mask wearing during Covid-19.”


Stay safe out there,  everyone!