Kids across Connecticut may be used to seeing masks in grocery stores, restaurants or pharmacies. But the new school year could bring a new challenge – wearing a mask for an extended period of time. According to experts at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, parents can help their children now, in the weeks before they head back to class.

How to Wear a Mask

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children 3 and older wear masks in areas where they can’t maintain proper social distancing. They should wash their hands first, then put on their mask by holding the loops that go around their ears. Cloth masks are fine, but any mask a child wears should fit their face, covering both their nose and mouth.

A good fit is not just about safety. Since children have smaller faces, it can be hard for the mask to stay up. A broader strap behind the ear makes a mask more comfortable, and a proper fitting mask will be easier for a child to wear.

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What Can Parents Do?

Parents can help their child get used to wearing a mask by modeling good behavior. Every time mom or dad goes out in public, they should wear their mask properly too.

Don’t surprise kids by having them wear a mask for the first time while out in a crowded space. Instead, try just 10 minutes at a time at home. Once kids get comfortable with that, it will be easier for them to wear a mask for longer periods of time.

Certified Child Life Specialist Katie Stein recommends getting kids involved with picking out their mask.

“I think kids do best when there are choices,” she said. “Letting kids design their masks, choose their masks, the patterns that are on their masks. Decorating their masks with fabric markers, making it their own.”

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Speak With Your Child

Stein said parents should also explain to their kids why masks are important. It’s become routine for kids to cough or sneeze into their elbow, because they’ve been taught it helps stop the spread of germs. You can use the same example when talking to kids about masks.

Vicki Smetak, MD, Medical Director of Regional Strategy and Partnerships for Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, and a Pediatric Hospitalist, explained that most kids are fairly resilient. Adults shouldn’t underestimate their ability to adapt to change.

“Wearing a mask, as difficult as it may be for some of the younger children, once they grasp it and they embrace it and it’s normalized for them, they’ll wear it. And they’ll actually seek it out because it’s kind of this cool thing now that they’re going to wear,” Dr. Smetak said.

Social distancing may be harder for kids. But Dr. Smetak said parents will need to be consistent in their messaging.

“Please be patient because this isn’t like flipping a switch,” Dr. Smetak said. “Children are social creatures and we’re asking them to do something against their nature and it’s doable, it just takes patience and re-direction.”