Across the United States, colleges, schools and daycares are trying to return to a schedule that feels like normal. However, with no vaccine in sight for COVID-19, we must be vigilant. Our best method for staying safe and healthy in this back-to-school season is quarantine. But few of us have the luxury to remain permanently quarantined, and so we must adopt other safety measures including the regular use of masks while in public.
We can already hear the eyes rolling back in parents’ heads. “Good luck with that!” says the parent of every five-year-old everywhere.
Our children, especially our youngest children, are going to struggle with the mask requirement. We have all forgotten our masks as we’ve left the house for an appointment or to go to the grocery. It is hard to adjust to a new normal that is so different that it requires different clothing and one more thing to grab on the way out the door.
When your child goes to school and stays protected from COVID-19, she or he is protecting your entire household. The stakes are high.
However, children everywhere have mastered challenging skills before, and with our help they will master this one as well. In fact, they are actually better suited to learning a new skill than we are.
Here’s a short guide to creating the greatest level of buy-in so your child is as successful as possible.
Review guidelines and provide factual answers to questions
The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance to school on the use of cloth masks. You should read it and review parts of it with your child, in an age-appropriate way.
This might mean simply saying to your youngest child, “The people in the world who know the most about COVID-19 tell us that wearing a mask is the best way for us to stay safe and healthy right now when we are around other people.”
You should also make sure you know and review your school or daycare’s policies around mask wearing.
Strongly emphasize for your child that because it is possible for people who do not feel sick to spread the virus, it is important to wear the mask at all times while at school.
Allow your child to pick a mask they love
The easiest way to get buy-in from someone about wearing a mask, or anything really, is to seek their involvement in making decisions.
Children and adults are far more likely to wear a mask they think is trendy, clever, funny, or in some way matches their personality or reflects their values. For your child this might mean a mask with a picture of a favorite cartoon or literary character, a bright version of their favorite color or colors, or a mask that they get to handpaint to reflect their creativity.
They are far more likely to remember their masks when it is something they are eager to show off around their friends.
Be prepared for failures and mistakes
As with all of us, our children are going to make mistakes in wearing their masks.
This might mean that they take their masks off at lunch and leave it in their backpack. This might mean that they get too close to their friends and have a whole conversation with their masks off before remembering. They will lose or accidentally throw away their mask.
Knowing that these mistakes might happen, and preparing for that likelihood, will help your child deal with those moments when they realize the mistake has been made.
First, remind them that a mistake is not the end of the world. Just like we can’t be sure who has it, we also can’t be sure that we will get COVID-19 just because we had one conversation without our masks. The best advice when you realize you don’t have your mask on is: put it on now that you have remembered.
Some children might be overcome with emotion and cry when they realize they made a mistake. These tears should be taken seriously and the child should be reassured that they’ve done nothing wrong and that forgetting is normal.
Second, always pack a backup. Having more than one mask available means that one mistake doesn’t put your child at risk for the rest of the day. It’s best if all the backups are among your child’s favorite masks.
Finally, make sure your child has a trusted adult they can go to at the school or daycare if they make a mistake. It might be hard for your child to admit losing their mask in front of their peers, so knowing that they know who to go to can give both of you peace of mind.
Finally, practice being responsible with the mask
You can practice good mask-wearing at home with your child. For an hour or more every day before school starts you can both wear masks like you’re at school. Be sure to provide constant reinforcement and praise for following the rules.
You can also make a game of mask mistakes. Did your daughter catch you with your mask below your nose? Let her know she’s doing a great job. Did your son forget to put his mask back on after he ate a snack? Lovingly remind him he made a mask mistake, and he can correct it right away.
Kids respond well to “gamification” because it adds fun to reinforcement.
Hopefully with these tips, your child will be prepared to safely return to school this fall.
Is your child responding poorly to the COVID-19 pandemic and time away from peers? Are you suffering from unexplained sleeplessness, anxiety, or an inability to concentrate? Talking to a trained therapist can help. You can schedule a time to talk to Sakina Issa by pressing the red button on this page. No commitment. No schedule. Just a chance to see if talking to her might help.