Now that August is no longer marking the beginning of back-to-school jitters for many, there’s a pretty good chance parents are anxious to see what the coming months will look like. Not only because they’re exhausted and wondering if they have to turn their living rooms back into classrooms—there’s been a lot of confusion surrounding school reopening—but also because their kiddos are missing friendships, consistent schedules, and a place dedicated specifically to learning.
So, whether kids are going to be back in-person in six weeks or we’ll be playing the waiting game until the spring semester, there’s something that’s never too early for parents to get started on: making sure your child is comfortable with being masked up when school days are reintroduced.
There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding the validity of making children wear face masks as the current state mandate excludes children under 10. However, the CDC has changed its guidelines, now recommending children above age 2 should have a face covering, and Dr. Pamela Sanders, a pediatrician from Kelsey-Seybold Clinic’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center* in Sugar Land, thinks this debate should be laid to rest.
Forget the anticipated tantrums; Sanders reassures us that teaching children why they’re wearing a mask could actually be an incredibly positive experience. “I think for kids of all ages, this is a great time to talk about social responsibility, how we do things that help other people,” says Sanders. “We want to make it more about how we’re doing something positive rather than trying to spend a lot of time scaring kids about the virus.”
Establishing this mindset is just the beginning of how parents can play a role in helping kids not only accept wearing a mask, but also find some joy in it. The next step? Get them involved in the process, whether that’s letting your kiddo pick out their own mask—bedecked with superheroes, Disney characters, you get it—or making one together at home. Allowing them to play a part in finding masks can be very encouraging, says Sanders.
On top of that, Sanders says making sure you’re fully stocked with at least five is a must. “It’s recommended to wash them daily. I think parents will want to send a spare to school so if it gets wet or dirty that child will have a replacement they can easily put on,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a real extensive or costly investment, but definitely important for everyone’s safety for sure.”
After finding the right mask, how children adjust to wearing it is largely up to parents. Comfort and care will play a factor in how long kids will want to leave them on. And seeing that they may be preparing for full school days with limited breaks, a single ear pinch could be a significant distraction.
Keeping close tabs on policies released by schools regarding when students will be wearing the masks and taking breaks is an essential step. “It will be really important for parents to help reinforce what the policy is going to be, so children are hearing a consistent message before in-person classes begin,” says Sanders.
If you do find your child is feeling anxious or upset about wearing masks, practicing every day is crucial. Sanders recommends having children start out wearing them at home a few minutes a day, and increasing that amount over time as they adjust. For smaller children, she says having them place a mask on their favorite doll or stuffed animal could also be comforting.
As long as parents are proactive in preparing for the in-person return to school, Sanders believes it will likely be a lot easier than many are expecting. “I think kids are maybe more resilient than we give them credit for,” she says. “I think if the rationale for these things is presented in a positive fashion and that there is consistent messaging around it, that will help kids to be able to do well.”
*This story has been corrected to reflect the location of Sanders' current clinic.