Pencils. Backpack. Face masks.
As school districts begin to talk about resuming classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks to contain the spread of the coronavirus has been part of many school system’s operating plans.
The CDC continues to recommend wearing masks in social situations to help protect both the mask wearer and the people around them from harmful virus transmission.
The longer mask wearing has been recommended, the more variety we see in styles and patterns to try and appeal to many different fashion and sensory tastes. However, in spite of the variety, it is hard to argue that mask wearing is comfortable for anyone, and this is particularly true for our kids.
We have some helpful suggestions to help prepare your kids for the possibility of mask wearing when school begins.
Keep It Positive
Our kids mirror the opinions and emotions of the adults in their lives. Be honest about why we have to wear face masks (to keep other safe and to keep ourselves safe from sickness) but don’t be scary. Let your children know that while wearing face masks may be uncomfortable, we can get used to the feeling. Remind them about all the great people who wear masks like their favorite nurse, the nice dental hygienist at the dentist, policemen, firefighters, Spiderman, Batman, or the characters from the cartoon show The Masks!
Practice Wearing Face Masks At Home
Practice is the best way to get used to the feeling of wearing a face mask. Start slow. If your child is resistant to the idea of wearing a mask, limit wear initially to a few minutes at a time. Kids often benefit from knowing when they can stop doing something difficult.
Consider strategies to help your child adjust to wearing a face mask such as:
- Setting a timer
- Wearing a mask for the length of a favorite song
- Wearing a mask on a drive until you see the next blue car and then take a break until another blue car
- Playing dress up as a doctor or dentist or your kid’s favorite superhero
- Putting a mask on and taking selfies of the ways you can make goofy faces with your just your eyes.
Find Some Role Models
In addition to all the heroes who wear masks, demonstrate mask wearing at home as well! Ideas to help your child adjust to the idea of wearing a mask include:
- Mom, dad, big brothers, sisters or cousins can wear a mask with them
- Facetime with grandparents in their masks
- Dress up toys and stuffed toys in masks during play time.
Make Your Mask Your Own
Not all face masks are the same. Try a variety of styles and fabrics to find one that your child is most comfortable in for the school day. You can have an ear loop mask, tie up mask, bandana bandit style mask, or neck gator mask. Look for loop extenders or button headbands if the loops bother small ears.
Include your child in picking the style and pattern. Your children can also decorate their own with stickers or fabric markers.
Talk About Sensory Differences In A Mask
Our senses may be impacted by the use of a face mask. Talking about the differences will help children adjust to the change toward wearing a face mask during the school day. Some examples:
- We all look different with masks on. Take pictures of each other with masks on and off and look at the difference. Look in the mirror and make faces with masks on and off.
- Kids may not like the smell of their breath in the mask. Try a mint or mouthwash if they are able.
- Practice talking loudly or softly and talk about how sound changes with the mask on.
- Use lotion on cheeks if the mask makes their skin dry out.
Social stories help us visualize a situation before trying it in real life. YouTube has several great social stories in video format to help explain and demonstrate mask wearing before you begin wearing masks for school. Search for “Social stories for mask wearing” or “social stories masks and autism” in the YouTube search and watch them with your child.
By Heather Jones, MS, OTR
Franciscan Health Lafayette East Occupational Therapist