Masks are now mandatory in Pennsylvania for everyone over the age of 2 who leaves their home.
Wearing a mask can be a challenge.
It’s not part of our normal routine. They’re uncomfortable. Sometimes we just don’t want to wear one, but we do because we understand the benefits of doing so.
Many children, especially younger ones, may not understand why we wear masks and avoid them because they’re uncomfortable.
Here are some tools and suggestions to encourage children to wear masks and integrate them into their daily routine:
- Motivation gives children a feeling of control and more independence. Try to find colors/characters/patterns your child likes. Etsy is a great resource for different masks. When possible, include your child in picking out their mask. This can help them feel fondly about it, something they look forward to wearing.
- Children will have preferences about the type of mask that feels most comfortable. If possible, let your child try a couple different styles. You will then be able to see which ones are most comfortable and which ones stay on better.
- A choice of masks is good for when they have to go out. One day your child might be in a dinosaur mood and another day, more of a truck mood. The type of activity might also influence their mask choice. Letting your child decide builds autonomy, independence, and a sense of control–and builds their motivation to wear it.
- Social stories are great tools to help build an understanding of mask wearing. If you are looking for social stories, we suggest this one about mask wearing and this one about COVID-19. Start building in the social story as part of your daily routine. Read it as you would any other storybook. The goal is to let your child understand the hows and whys of masks and to allow space for you to answer questions as they come up. As your child becomes more familiar with the story, progress to having your child (and you!) wear a mask while you read. The goal is to make mask wearing more comfortable, more routine, and part of your daily habit.
- For children who are pre-verbal, or who respond better to visual boards, it can be helpful to use a First-Then board. First-Then boards help children understand expectations and give a visual representation of the behavior. Start with the mask wearing in the “first” section, followed by a preferred task/activity in the “then” section. Use a clear, concise visual icon, perhaps a picture of someone wearing a mask or a picture of you or your child wearing a mask. Then, use an icon for whatever will happen next (preferably something the child really loves!).
Verbalize Clear, Concise Directives:
- Use clear, concise directives. You don’t want to add too many steps or too much white noise in your instructions. For example, you could simply say, “First put on your mask, then we’re going to the store.” Or, “First put on your mask, then we’re going to play a video game.” The more clear and concise the better.
Practice and Praise:
- Start by practicing mask wearing in short intervals and give lots of positive praise throughout. For some kids, small intervals might be seconds, minutes, or 30 minutes. It’s OK if your child can’t manage a long duration at the beginning, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice!
- Practice during preferred activities. This will help build the habit and make it more enjoyable for your child by having a distraction. Choose something that is specific to your child that you know they enjoy: watching a show, going outside, playing with a specific toy, etc. First put on a mask, and then get to the fun part.
- Give praise early and often! Children are highly motivated by praise (for more about the power of play and praise, check out our blog here). So give lots of positive reinforcement and encouragement while your child practices wearing their mask.
Wearing a mask is a new skill; one that takes patience and practice to get used to. If you are looking for additional resources, we really like this article from Autism NJ. We are always here if you have specific questions about your child’s needs! Stay safe and well.
Have a question? E-mail Lrichmond@cgrc.org, Find out more about Child Guidance Resource Centers here.
About the author: Brianna Matey is the Vice President for Clinical Services at Child Guidance Resource Centers. She has been with Child Guidance for over 10 years and oversees CGRC’s Delaware and Philadelphia county services. Brianna specializes in working with individuals to support their needs around emotional regulation, developmental delays, anxiety, depression, and coping skill development.