As part of Connecticut Children’s Safe and Sound program, every team member, visitor and patient over age 2 wears a face mask. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, masks should be a habit for your family too, especially as you venture out to public places for summer fun

But it can be a challenge getting some kids to wear a mask for any amount of time, and an especially tough adjustment for kids with sensory or developmental needs. 

One way you can help is to slow down, and have your child get in the habit of wearing a mask with gradual steps. Child Life specialist Kathryn Robbins, MS, CCLS, joins the blog with strategies.

> For mask tips broken down by age, check out Mask Up! Tips to Make Kids More Comfortable With Masks.

1. Model masks.

Help your child feel good about seeing others and themselves in a mask by finding opportunities to show them people or characters in masks, and talking about why you’re wearing them.

  • Wear your mask around your child.
  • Get on a video chat with role models, like an admired older cousin, so they can wear masks together for a few minutes. (While you’re at it, check out these 23 ideas for video chat activities.)
  • Look at photos with your child’s favorite characters wearing masks, like this fun resource from our Child Life team.
  • For older kids and teens, point out how many people wear masks, and talk about the appropriate way to wear them (covering both the nose and mouth).
Bot wearing a mask

2. Customize your child’s masks for comfort and style.

  • Younger kids are drawn to masks that have characters on them. (Here at Connecticut Children’s, Mickey Mouse masks are a hit.) Kids of all ages can get involved in decorating their paper or fabric mask. Teens might want a favorite sports team, their favorite color or something else that expresses their individuality.
  • Have your child try out different styles to see what they like best for look and feel: neck gaiters, masks with adjustable elastic, masks with elastic ear loops and masks that tie behind the head.
  • Make their mask more comfortable with an “ear savers” band that attaches to the ear elastic (rather than the elastic connecting behind the head), or use clips or buttons to attach their mask to a headband or hat.
  • If your child has sensory or developmental needs, pay extra attention to comfort: This post has tips.

3. Have a variety of masks that your child likes.

It’s a good idea to get your child used to several different masks. For one, it means you’ll always have a couple options handy even when one is in the laundry. For another, one of the best ways to get kids to cooperate with tasks is to give them a choice.

  • Each time it’s appropriate for your child to wear a mask, you might start with giving them a choice. For example: “Would you like to wear your red mask, or your blue mask?”
  • It can also be fun to designate different masks for different activities: for example, a surgical mask when going to the grocery store, and a cloth mask for taking a walk around the block

4. Have your child practice wearing their mask.

Start small and build up gradually, so your child feels relaxed and calm. Don’t move onto the next step until they’ve mastered the first one. This incremental approach can be especially helpful for kids with developmental or sensory needs.

  • Have your child hold their mask up to their face. Then have them practice wearing it with one loop over the ear, then over both ears.
  • Have your child wear the mask covering their chin, then their mouth, then just below their nose. Finally, have them wear it in the proper position, covering both their mouth and nose.
  • Have your child wear their mask for a few seconds, then build up in increments until they can wear it for a minute or two. Once they can wear a mask for five minutes, try jumping up in five-minute increments.
  • Have a clear signal for your time goal: Count down or use a timer to signal when your child can take a break from wearing their mask. Use lots of positive reinforcement throughout, like verbal praise and high fives.
  • If your child takes their mask off before the goal time, pause and restart. Praise what went well. And end each practice session on a positive note: For example, if your goal was a minute but your child didn’t quite get there, make the last practice a 30-second session, so they can end with success.

5. Build in rewards and reinforcements.

  • Count down or use a timer to signal when your child will get a reward. For example: “First we’ll practice wearing our masks for five minutes. Then we’ll play with dinosaurs.”
  • Offer a favorite activity while they’re practicing with their mask, whether it’s an art activity or looking at a favorite book.
  • When they’re ready, plan a rewarding activity that requires wearing a mask – like going for a walk in a favorite public place!
Girl wearing mask

6. Eventually, incorporate mask-wearing into different settings and activities.

  • For a fun distraction that still reinforces good mask habits, time mask-wearing with another part of your child’s schedule – like going for a walk, playing with a favorite toy or watching a movie.
  • Wear masks around different people. If social distancing makes this hard to do in person, think about whether your child might start a virtual lesson, video chat or even Video Visit with their mask on.
  • Wear masks in different places, like inside the house, in the yard, or going for a walk around the neighborhood.

7. As often as possible, offer choices.

  • Let your child choose their mask, and give them appropriate choices about how and when to wear it. For example: “Do you want to wear your mask as soon as we get out of the car, or once we get to the door of the grocery store?”

Remind your child that wearing a mask isn’t a replacement for social distancing, so for everyone’s safety, keep at least six feet from anyone who isn’t part of your household. And provide lots of positive reinforcement as they adjust to this new aspect of everyday life. We’re all safer when we wear masks!

Want more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust?

Sign up for our newsletter.