BOSTON — Mallory Rohrig’s son is only 4 years old but he already knows he needs to cover his face when he’s around other people.
“You can see the effect on him. Socially, he gets much more nervous around other people now, and he knows he has to have his mask on when he goes to public places,” Rohrig said.
If your child isn’t comfortable wearing a mask, they soon may not have a choice. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] released guidance last month on what school could look like this fall.
According to the “Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance” report, students in, “grade 2 and above [will be] required to wear a mask [or] face covering that covers their nose and mouth.” Kindergarteners and first graders, “should be encouraged to wear a mask,” in the classroom.
Exceptions can be made for medical conditions and “mask breaks” should occur throughout the day, according to the guidance report.
Dr. Robert Sege, a Tufts Medical Center pediatrician, said, in many ways, children may have an easier time adjusting to masks than adults.
“Children have a good sense of fairness and they want to keep people safe,” Dr. Sege said.
Dr. Sege offered his own guidance for helping children adjust to wearing a mask for an extended period of time:
MAKE IT FUN
Choose fun patterns, colors or themes, like a mask featuring a favorite superhero or cartoon.
“You can decorate the mask, or you can have the child choose out the mask between different colors, like ‘Which mask do you want to wear today?’” Dr. Sege said.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan offers free coloring pages using popular cartoon characters wearing masks.
Make them understand the mask is just like any other piece of clothing when they’re getting dressed for school.
“Even if your child wanted to go to school without a shirt because it’s hot, you would make him wear a shirt,” Dr. Sege said. “The trick here is giving them input in some decision making, but one of the decisions is not, ‘Will you wear mask or not?’”
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
You should have a mask on when you ask them to put their mask on.
“Have the child see you, the parent, wear a mask. Have them practice wearing it around home,” Dr. Sege said.
Make sure the mask fits properly and doesn’t smell funny. If your child wears eyeglasses, check to see if the top of the mask is firm over the bridge of the nose, and consider using anti-fog spray on the lenses.
HAVE A BACK-UP MASK READY TO GO
Masks will be lost or get dirty, especially in the hands of younger children.
“Yeah, children need to have back-ups,” Dr. Sege said. “They’re going to lose things. I guess that means don’t buy your child a million-dollar fashion mask.”
DON’T BUY N95 OF KN95 MASKS FOR YOUR KIDS
Not only are they not as comfortable, they’re meant for medical professionals, not children.
“As the kids get older, it’s more and more important to be candid with them and to explain the reason we wear masks is to protect each other. It’s something we do because we care about everybody in our community,” Dr. Sege said.
This is key because very few children may actually get sick from the virus. According to state education officials, schools do not appear to play a major role in COVID-19 transmission and rates of infection are lower for children than adults.
“Children under 20 are half as susceptible to COVID-19 infection rates than adults,” according to DESE’s guidance report.
Although children under the age of 18 make up 22% of the U.S. population, they account for less than 2% of COVID-19 cases, the report said.
“Children are more likely to be asymptomatic, however, which underscores the importance of health behaviors for everyone,” including masks, social distancing, handwashing and surface cleaning, according to DESE’s report.
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