If you’re anxious about your child wearing a face covering this fall, you’re not alone.
As school districts across the state mandate the wearing of face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents should prepare their children now for that unique reality, said Diane Bales, a child development specialist at the University of Georgia.
Explaining to your child the rationale behind the mask requirement is a good place to start, she said.
“A lot of kids are unfortunately going to need to wear a mask for the better part of the day,” said Bales, associate professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences and UGA Cooperative Extension human development specialist. “It’s useful to help kids understand why it’s important to wear a mask, that you’re doing this to help other people.”
Bales also recommends parents practice putting on and wearing masks with their kids before in-person classes resume.
“I’d start with 10 to 15 minutes a day and see if you can build up a little,” she said. “Start with wearing it for a very short period of time and work up to a longer time. If kids are old enough, help them understand why it’s important — that it’s not that their parents are just being mean.”
She also urged parents to experiment with different styles of face coverings to find the right fit.
“It’s important to get kids to buy in, so help them pick out a style or color they like,” Bales said. “There are lots of different styles, fabrics and shapes, things that are going to fit different people.”
Bales noted that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend a few exceptions to the mask mandates. Children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance should not wear cloth face coverings.
Children with severe asthma or sensory issues also are likely to have problems with face coverings, Bales said.
“In those cases, there may be other alternatives,” she said. “In some countries, kids are wearing face shields instead of masks. They may look funny to some, but they don’t press against the face and they do provide some kind of protection.”
Bales also pointed out the importance of keeping face coverings sanitized and reminding kids to keep their hands away from their face.
“The younger they are, the more difficult that’s going to be,” she said. “The reality is it’s only going to be effective if you keep it in place and don’t touch it all the time. Younger children are going to have more difficulty with that.”
Between mask wearing, social distancing and increased hand washing, Bales said that it's important that parents reassure their children that it’s normal to experience a range of emotions as they face so many unknowns.
“School is guaranteed to not look like it did last year, and that’s anxiety provoking,” Bales said. “It’s important to prepare kids without overwhelming them, and remind them that the goal for all of these new rules is to keep everybody healthy.”
For more human development and family science resources from UGA Extension, visit extension.uga.edu/publications.