Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, levels of uncertainty are high. As we begin to plan and prepare for the upcoming school year, parents and caregivers are often left with more questions than answers.
“What we do know is that good hand hygiene and practicing physical distancing helps slow the spread of COVID-19,” according to Meg Puddy, BCBA, with Agnesian HealthCare’s Autism Treatment Services, a member of SSM Health. “We also know that wearing face coverings should be a habit we practice and encourage. For many of us building the habit of wearing masks has not come without its challenges. Helping our children to wear masks has left many parents and caregivers reaching out for guidance.”
Puddy offers some tips to help introduce and encourage your child in wearing a mask during the pandemic.
Take a Deep Breath, You’ve Got This!
As with any new skill, this too will take some time. “As caregivers, it’s good to remind ourselves that this is new, for all of us,” Puddy explains. “It’s likely that it will not go smoothly the first day, or even the first week. Slow down, relax, you’ve got this!”
Remember every child is unique, individualize!
When choosing a mask, try to individualize for your child by considering comfort, preferences and appropriate sizing. If possible, include your child in selecting a mask. Your child may be more likely to wear a mask that has their favorite character, sports team or special interest incorporated into the design. Further, ensuring appropriate fit not only makes a mask more comfortable, but also increases the effectiveness.
Children learn best through play. Place a mask on your child’s favorite stuffed animal, dress up those action figures, play doctor, wear yours briefly when reading a book or coloring with your child, decorate a mask with stickers, get creative and have some fun! Introducing masks in a playful way will not only increase the fun factor, but it will make your child more comfortable in the early stages of engaging with masks.
Model, Model, Model
When your child sees you consistently wearing a mask, this normalizes face coverings and further increases your child’s comfort level. It also has the added benefit of helping us grown-ups establish healthier habits, too! Talking about how you place the mask on your face, how to wash or sanitize your hands prior to removing, where to store masks can be useful in developing good habits in our children.
Children may be wondering why we are wanting them to wear a mask in the first place. Provide a simple explanation using positive and age-appropriate language. Encourage questions and be open and consistent in your responding. You can find additional helpful tips on how to talk to your child about the coronavirus here.
Remember that these times of uncertainty can lead to confusion, frustration, and difficulty expressing our fears and emotions. “If your child expresses fear or frustration, validate and acknowledge their feelings while supporting them in understanding the importance of wearing masks,” according to Puddy.
Spread Love, Not Germs!
With practice, encouragement and love your child will become more comfortable with the new routine of wearing a mask. Children often need reminders for things like brushing their teeth and washing their hands. Wearing a mask will be no different. “Use gentle reminders about the need to wear a mask and when helping children to adjust and wear masks appropriately,” Puddy says. “Remember to focus on the positive and to recognize your child when wearing a mask goes well - positive encouragement goes a long way!”
If your child has sensory or developmental needs, extra care and consideration may be needed to encourage mask wearing. We recommend seeking guidance from your child’s education and health care team. Additional resources recommended by our multidisciplinary team are also available by visiting www.treffertcenter.com.