The Pa. Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, signed an expanded mask-wearing order last week, saying that everyone must wear a mask when they leave their home. This applies to kids age two and older and it also applies to children in a school setting.
Dr. Katherine Shedlock, a pediatrician at Penn State Children’s Hospital, says you should look for ways to normalize mask wearing around kids and even practice it around the house.
She recommends that you even put a mask on a child’s favorite stuffed animal.
“It helps them to see the mask in a familiar environment, but it also helps them to learn how to use the mask during pretend play,” Shedlock said. “Pretend play really makes the younger kids more comfortable with a lot of things.”
Dr. Shedlock says that if you let kids pick their own mask they will respond to having more control over the situation. Allow them to choose a mask with their favorite character, sports team or even color.
You also should make sure the mask fits properly so they’re less likely to fidget with it, Dr. Shedlock said. The mask should be secure over the nose, fit under the chin and not have any large gaps on the sides.
Dr. Shelock says positive reinforcement for good mask wearing, or even small rewards, can go a long way. And if a child resists wearing a mask, assure them that you understand.
“Validating their feelings is really important, letting them know, ‘I understand that it makes you upset and makes you angry…I don’t like the situation either, but we’re going to get through this. This is not forever, it’s just right now. And so hopefully soon, we won’t have to wear these anymore, but to get to that point we all have to do our part and wear a mask,” Shedlock said.
Dr. Shedlock says you should explain to kids why they are wearing a mask, using simple terms. For example, she suggests simply telling kids that wearing a mask can prevent the spread of germs and help to keep everyone healthy.
You should also model good mask behavior for your kids. If you wear your mask properly over your nose and mouth, your kids are more likely to emulate that behavior, she said.
The state’s mask-wearing order applies to all schools, including public and parochial, from daycares to high schools. The Department of Education released several circumstances for when in-school children can remove their mask including eating or drinking when spaced six feet apart, seated at desks or assigned workspaces at least six feet apart or engaged in any activity at least six feet apart.