Ways to Encourage Even Young Children to Wear Masks

It can be hard enough to get children to wear their jackets and keep their shoes on. Getting them to wear masks may seem like an impossible task. With mask mandates and the start of school just around the corner, here are several ways to encourage even young children to wear masks.

Fit and comfort first – It may be helpful to start with an assortment of styles. Try ones with loops behind the ears, bands behind the head, bandanas, cone style and gaiters. Try different fabrics; t-shirts, cloth masks, cloth masks with filters, disposable paper masks.

Introduce them slowly – It is less than helpful to expect any child to wear a mask for a few hours on the first go. With preschoolers getting beyond a minute or two on the first try is success.

Wear them – Young children learn best through modeling. Wear your mask.

Talk about them – It may be helpful to talk about how masks protect the person who wears it and all the people around them from spreading germs and getting sick. This makes wearing a mask a good and easy way to be a friend. Highlight your favorite mask and what you like about it. Talk about anything funny or nice that has happened by wearing your mask.

Read about them – There are a few helpful children’s books about wearing masks:

· Lucy’s Mask by Thompson

· A Little SPOT Wears a Mask by Alber

· The Love Behind the Mask by Toth

· A Unique Start from 6 Feet Apart by Oquendo

· Heros Wear Masks: Elmo’s Super Adventure by Sesame Workshops

· Smiling from Ear to Ear: Wearing Masks While Having Fun by Chu

Teach about them – Gently teach children to keep their masks over their nose and mouth. Teach them to keep their hands down and away from their masks as best they can. Teach them how to put their masks on. All this may be more fun in front of a mirror. It may be helpful to ask your child to teach you all they know about masks for review.

Watch videos about them – There are a few helpful children’s videos about wearing masks: ·

We All Wear Masks by Mr. Mike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnP-uMn6q_U

For Kids: Why Do I Have to Wear a Mask https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGB-hxst7fo

How to Wear a Mask in School by Tech-nic-Allie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC2OxVSX53M

Do’s and Don’t for Wearing Face Masks by ISD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MQieJVGSbE

Arthur Wearing a Mask by PBS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXp8bK3C8qA

Avoid complaining about them – Assume your child is listening all the time. If you complain about wearing a mask, there may be more push back when you ask them to.

Offer choices and challenges – You might offer choices about which mask to wear or a challenge about how long they can keep their mask on or not touch their mask.

Allow play with masks: Play doctor or veterinarian – If you have a play doctor’s kit, it may be helpful to add masks to that set and practice wearing them while taking care of patients. Play cowboys, superheroes (at least Spiderman), construction workers – It may be helpful to highlight other characters that at least sometimes wear masks.

Decorate them – It may be fun to have plain fabric masks and let your child color it with fabric markers. It may be fun to add a patch or just a few stickers to their mask.

Add masks to other items – It may be funny to use pieces of paper towel to decorate framed family photos with new masks. It may be fun to have masks for doll babies, action figures or a family pet.

Pick fun ones – There are so many fun masks! At CDS this week alone I’ve seen several superhero, dinosaur, unicorn and rainbow glitter masks.

Give new masks with other gifts – At back to school time, you might have your child pick out a few new masks when they get back to school clothes. With all the gift giving over holidays, it may be fun to have your child help pick new masks to give to people they love.

Encourage and remind rather than discipline – Think of this as encouraging a new behavior and masks as something to incorporate in to your family’s every day life.

Encourage all the other healthy habits – Teach your kids to wash their hands well. Aim for 20 seconds and with warm soapy water. Teach them to wash the front, back, between fingers and fingertips. Teach them to catch their coughs and sneezes in their elbows. Teach them ways to greet people with less touching; elbow bumps, air high-fives and jazz hands all work. Teach them to give their friends some space with they play.

Here is a helpful article from the American Academy of Pediatrics about masks: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Cloth-Face-Coverings-for-Children-During-COVID-19

Here are a few shopping lists to get you started:

From msn.com: https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/shopping-all/the-best-face-masks-for-kids-are-soft-secure-breathable

From nymag.com: https://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-kids-face-masks-parent-recommended.html

From fatherly.com: https://www.fatherly.com/gear/the-best-kids-cloth-face-masks/

From wired.com: https://www.wired.com/gallery/best-kids-face-masks/

A Great Start to the School Year

Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom

After a relaxing summer, getting into the school routine can be a tough transition.  There are lots of small things to do to help the school year get off to a great start.

  • Good night, good breakfast and calm morning – Do what you can the night before including pack lunches, pick outfits and review the schedule. Have a morning routine that ends with a few minutes for something your child enjoy, like legos or playing with the dog. It gives them something to work towards and gives you a time buffer. It may be helpful to be as routine about the mornings as you are about bedtimes.
  • Take advantage of preview experiences – This might include visiting the schools website with your child, playing on the school’s playground, and participating in home or early school visits. Anything to help your child feel familiar with their school.
  • Expect your child to be tired for at least the first several weeks. – This may mean you’ll see more acting out or difficult afternoons. It’s good to lay as low on outside activities as you can. It may be helpful to reinstitute an afternoon quiet time for a while.
  • Be on time – Schools usually do something predictable during the drop off window so children feel more comfortable. It helps your child to know what to expect as they enter. If you are late, the child has no idea what they are walking into. Being on time also ensures they are there for the morning planning time which can help a child feel settled.
  • Participate in school as you can – Be a room parent, volunteer to read, make play-doh or send in party supplies. Your child sees that you value school which goes a long way towards their motivation.
  • Plan playdates – It’s important to have time with a wide variety of kids in the class, not just their favorite one or two. It broadens your child’s social network and at some point during the year they will likely have to work in class with everybody.
  • Ask more interesting questions – Many parents note children aren’t great at answering, “what did you do at school today?” It’s helpful to ask different and more interesting questions each day like, “who did you sit with at lunch?” or, “did anything funny happen today?” It might also be helpful to wait and ask after they’ve had a bit of time away from school.
  • Read the Family Handbook – Schools work hard to write and update their manuals. Many of the questions you have throughout the year about school policies and calendars are answered in the handbook. Read it.
  • Remind them of previous positive transitions – Remind your child of how much fun it was to start at a new camp last summer or to join join a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
  • Read upbeat children’s story books about the start of school – Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff, If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Know the drop off and pick up policies – Share the plan for drop off and pick up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do.
  • If there is separation anxiety – It can be helpful to learn about and have a real plan for separation. This may vary by age and by school logistics. Here is a link to a free 20 minute interview I gave about managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation

Tips for Starting Kindergarten

The start of Kindergarten is an exciting time! If your child is starting this fall, there are many things you can be doing to get them ready.

  • Preview the school – Spend some time this summer playing on the school’s playground. Visit their website with your child to view pictures and videos. If there is a preview day or back to school night, attend this as a family.
  • Read books about the start of school – This includes Kindergarten Rocks by Davis, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Slate and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Talk about your own positive early school experiences – Parents stories can go a long way towards providing a sense of comfort and excitement. Keep your stories about school upbeat during this time.
  • Get back to your bedtime routines at least a week before – Being well rested helps to provide a smooth start to the school year as a whole and to each school day. It is good to set a firm bedtime and routine for the evening and the morning. It’s best to start this at least a week prior, so it is expected once the year begins.
  • Provide and start using a calendar with them – The start of the school year is a great time to introduce the calendar and mark days off as you go. If you can, start this in Kindergarten with tracking field trips and other special events, it will be easier to use tracking tests and projects as they get into the later elementary grades.
  • Read aloud with them everyday – Reading aloud as a daily activitiy is one of the best ways to build readers. For Kindergarten, it lays foundation for phonemic awareness and builds listening skills.

>starting school

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

I need your help!!! My six year old daughter Amy is having some anxiety related to starting school soon. She has been having difficulty going to bed at night; this seems to be the only time it manifests itself. As soon as I move to leave the room, she starts fidgeting and says she needs to go to the bathroom. When we return to her room, she says she has to go again. Last night, we stopped the whole process and talked to her about what will happen the first day of school and also explained we are meeting her teacher next week. Is it too much to expect to have her get on the bus the first day? I worry that if she doesn’t do it the first day I’m setting her up to depend on me everyday. She has a very good friend who will be riding the bus with her, but I’m not sure that will be enough to motivate her. We are thinking we may look into therapy to help her deal with anxieties.

Thanks, Samantha
Mother of two, ages 3 and 6 years

Dear Samantha,

I am sorry to hear this has been hard already. My older daughter had very similar nights (and mornings) when she was a bit younger. I’m going to write about the global things first, then more practical.

Between now and the time school starts, think lots of downtime and empathy. Downtime is unscheduled, low key playtime. It is fine to have friends over and to go out, but I wouldn’t run everyone ragged in the last few days. When children are tired, their worries seem overwhelming. Downtime also lends itself to more open conversation. I would talk about school with her when she brings it up or when she seems particularly anxious – just like you did the other night – stopping everything and talking about her first day.

The empathy component is to remember that her worries are hers and they are real, and the reasoning, reassuring and logic do little to actually help. Empathy (labeling emotions, talking her through and suggesting ways to cope) allows her to own those feeling and validate them so you and she are on the same page. Empathy helps children to calm because they feel understood. So, first approach with empathy before the fix.

Prepare her as best you can, which you are already doing. Talk her through the daily schedule, and answer questions whenever needed. You might go play on the school playground or have playdates with other kids going to the same school. When you meet the teacher, you might ask if you can take a picture of her and the teacher together, and then get it printed that day, so she can have it to hold onto until school starts. You might also use the picture to make a craft project – a poster for her room or a card to give the teacher on the first day, etc. or do both with copies.

Before you meet the teacher next week, you might sit with Amy to find out if she has anything she wants the teacher to know or wants you to ask the teacher. If it were me, I’d tell her tomorrow to think about those things and then talk about it over the few days before meeting the teacher. This gives Amy a sense of control of the meeting. She has her questions answered.

Talk to her about the bus idea and how fun you remember the bus to be and games/songs you remember while riding with your friends. If another good friend rides the bus with her, maybe you all could meet 10 minutes before and board together. Maybe you could assure her that you will step on to be sure she sits with someone she knows. It is best if she can face it and get on the bus the first day but don’t be defeated if not. It may be that she takes and few days to feel confident about school and then can better face the bus. If the bus doesn’t happen the first day, I would plan a goal date that it will, such as the second day or Monday of the second week. Something realistic so it doesn’t turn into a year. Getting on with a friend might be the thing – especially if you make a date out of it.

Remember too that your attitude goes a long way, and she is reading you more than you know. If you are apprehensive and worried, the morning won’t go well; she gets that, at least to some extent. So, put on your brave face and smile through her upset. You want to send the message that the bus and school are safe and fun places, it is where she should be, and that you have no doubt she will enjoy herself and want to ride the bus everyday. If you can start to anticipate that it will all go WELL, it will go all the better.

You might check out Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step by Step Guide for Parents by Wignall, Spence, Cobham and Rapee.

Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

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