Most of the time a new behavior has to be developed at home before children can do it with success outside of the house. Think about how you taught your kids to say “please” and “thank you” at home before they so charmingly used it with other adults! We can help them get used to seeing and wearing masks with preparation, repetition, and positive experiences. Here’s how you'll make your kids wear masks like champions:
- Explain in simple ways why children should wear them
Try explaining the importance of wearing a mask like this:
“Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. Just like we've taught you to sneeze into your elbow, we’re asking you to wear a mask to stop germs from spreading. It’s telling others that you simply care about them and you’re trying your best to keep your germs to yourself.”
- Acknowledge their frustration and observe when the timing is right
Kids are frustrated by how coronavirus has impacted their lives. It may be useful to acknowledge this and normalize their feelings, particularly when they show resistance to wearing a mask. The best time to introduce mask-wearing is when everyone is well-rested, well-fed, and in a good mood. It'll be easier for everybody to have a positive experience if they’re in the right mindset.
- Practice sessions at home and practice with others
Allow children to touch their masks, sniff them, and hold them in their hands for increasing increments of time to help them build skill and comfort (5, 10, 30 seconds for example). Then have them hold it to their mouth for 1, 2, 5, 10 seconds, progressing up to a minute or more. Plan out a video chat with friends or members of the family to practice wearing masks together. This will help normalize mask-wearing and will be encouraging for people on both ends of the call. Children learn quickly from their friends and loved ones and wearing a mask together will make it a lot more fun.
- Use positive, clear, polite direction and be consistent
It might take some practice to change how we give direction. Rather than saying “Stop touching your mask”, instead say, “Please keep your hands away from your face.” When setting limits say, “If you’d like to go with me to drop this off, you’ll need to wear a mask, please” rather than “You can’t go if you don’t wear your mask”. Substituting “NO, STOP, CAN’T or DON’T” statements with positive and active statements can make those desired behaviors more likely to happen!
- Keep positive and make it fun!
Give children lots of positive affirmation for practicing and keeping their masks on for extended periods of time. Praise children for keeping their hands away from the mask (instead of only scolding them for touching it). Once they’re more comfortable keeping it on, have them do fun things while wearing it. Do a silly dance, paint pictures, play their favorite games, or read their favorite books. Practice putting masks on their toys, dolls, or stuffed animals. If they’re into superheroes, they will relish being referred to as a “masked superhero” when they go out with their face covered. Distraction and encouragement will help children get past the discomfort associated with constantly having something in the way of their mouths and noses.
Parents can set an example by wearing masks too. The more positive we are about it, the more likely kids are to follow our lead. It is hard to see your kid in a mask, particularly at first, so breathe deep and give yourself grace. This isn’t easy for anybody, but if we work together, we can keep ourselves, our children, and our communities safe!