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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A note on safety: Children under two years old are NOT advised to wear a mask, and Japanese scientists have recently warned that wearing a mask can be very dangerous for toddlers under two. Wearing a mask may also be unsafe for older children with medical conditions: Summit Medical Group advises, "it is safe for your child to wear a mask if he or she is older than two years and does not have health issues that would make breathing harder with a face covering. Examples of such conditions include illnesses that cause neurological or muscular weakness and developmental and emotional conditions that make wearing a mask overly stressful."
Just a reminder, PSP member posts are not checked for accuracy. The content is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. www.parkslopeparents.com is not intended to, and does not, provide medical advice diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read on the PSP groups or on the www.parkslopeparents.com website. Never rely on information in an e-mail or on our web site in place of seeking professional medical advice.

 

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.

Also—you can order a mask with a clear mouth section, like the ClearMask, which is designed to help deaf and hard of hearing individuals, older folks, children, and anyone who wants to be able to read facial cues while remaining protected.

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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 (including stuffed animals), 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. 

Consider a custom photo mask. Some vendors are offering custom-printed photo masks with the bottom half of your face on it. Not only can this help get around the problem of your iPhone's Face ID, but it may also be fun and/or reassuring for your child to see you in or to wear themselves. 

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. Here are some recommendations:

  • CutSewFast on Etsy
  • Suri 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
  • OpenDesignProducts on Etsy
  • TheCavemom 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.”
  • TwinTreeDesigns on Etsy: "We love these masks below for my 2 year old (he was 2 in May). They fit really well and he will only wear these ones consistently."
  • Elestory: "I figured if I were to bribe my child into wearing a mask, it better have rainbows or unicorns on it. The masks have soft, adjustable earloops, which make it easy for her to pull the mask under her chin and then pull it back up over her mouth. They're really well-made and are on the thinner side, which make them bearable to wear on hot days. (I know because I got one for myself, too.)"
  • Sammy and Nat: "The thin, soft straps are easier on her ears, and the adjustability is nice, too. These have no nose wire, but bridge wire seemed not to do anything as tots tend to have pretty low nasal bridges anyway."
  • Très Cher
  • Lollicup Store
  • Groceries Apparel
  • abacaxi-nyc
  • Buru
  • 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.”
  • Bella Beach Kids
  • Alex + Nova
  • Old Navy
  • 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.”
  • Or a kerchief or bandana: "Our son (just turned two) has had a problem with a regular toddler mask (He doesn’t like the feeling around his ears - also he’s a very small two year old and they don’t fit him quite right) but has taken to wearing a mini kerchief that’s tied in the back and covers his nose and mouth. Hopefully this is a step towards a proper mask but I figure is better than nothing :) any square piece of fabric your toddler thinks is 'cool' folded into a triangle could work!"

 

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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. 

Bring extra masks when you're out. If it's super hot, your child's mask may get sweaty and be even harder to tolerate. Letting them take a quick break to remove the mask and replace it with a dry, clean one can help.

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. You may also consider enforcing the rule that they can't go outside if they don't mask up first, and/or turning around and going home if they refuse to keep it on when outside the house.

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!