As families start thinking about going back to school this fall during a pandemic, many parents are wondering about the use of masks at school.
Can kids breathe well under the masks? Will they be deprived of oxygen? How about carbon dioxide poisoning? Will they keep them on? Do kids even need them?
Dr. Melissa St. Germain, a pediatrician with Children’s Physicians and president of the Nebraska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has heard it all from parents, and has helpful tips in return.
Here, she discusses how parents can help make sure their children are properly wearing masks, as well as how to get kids to wear them and keep them on.
Will they be able to breathe?
Wearing a mask doesn’t prevent you from getting oxygen or cause carbon dioxide poisoning, St. Germain said. “Pretty much all health care workers have been wearing a mask all day for the last four months. So they are safe. We need to wear them, or we’ll have outbreaks at school and be back to virtual schooling, and we don’t want that.”
Kids older than 2 should wear masks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids over the age of 2 wear masks whenever they are in potential exposure situations, or within 6 feet of another person. Kids under 2 years old shouldn’t wear a mask because “you can’t trust they’re not going to play with it, try and eat it, put it on backward or leave it on,” St. Germain said.
“The risk becomes worse than the benefit at the point because they’re more likely to touch them. If they come into an office, we recommend parents cover them with a blanket (in their car seat).”
But what if you’re outside?
If your family is planning to be outside and at least 6 feet away from anyone, St. Germain said kids don’t need to wear masks, but that it’s a good idea to have some with you.
Masks should fit correctly.
When purchasing or making a mask for a child, the most important thing is the fit. The mask should cover their mouth and nose without any gaps around the sides.
“If it doesn’t fit, you’re going to be more likely to touch it and adjust it,” St. Germain said.
She noted that several places sell kids masks, including Etsy, Old Navy and Crayola, which makes adjustable masks — a good idea for growing kids.
Children’s Hospital created a video for younger kids about the importance of wearing a mask, as well as how to wear one correctly. There’s a video for older kids as well.
How often should masks be washed?
St. Germain recommends having a five-day supply on hand for each child because masks should be washed every day.
“They get kind of damp by the end of the day,” she said.
How do you get your child to wear a mask?
St. Germain recommends having kids practice wearing masks now. Start by wearing them a few minutes a day, and work your way up to an hour and longer, she said. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding kids for leaving their masks on and not touching them.
“A sticker chart or a prize at the end of the week goes a long way,” she said.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
If you have a child who refuses to wear a mask or maybe has special health care needs that make it impossible to wear one safely, St. Germain recommends talking with your doctor to figure out the best approach and plan for using a mask safely.
“There are some other options that don’t fit as closely to the face, like a face shield made out of clear plexiglass,” she said. “Look at it now and figure out the best type of mask for your child.”
What if your kids are scared?
For kids who might be scared of wearing a mask, St. Germain said exposure can help.
“Some of these kids haven’t been out of the house a whole lot for the last few months, so they don’t see people out wearing masks,” she said. “If the parents, doctors and everyone else are saying, ‘Masks help; they’re safe and keep germs away,’ it’s not scary. Kids respond really well to that.”
Kids will get used to it.
St. Germain said getting kids to wear a mask is similar to a lot of other things parents make kids do that they might not always enjoy — like brushing their teeth or sitting in a car seat.
“Kids don’t like being in car seats, but when we teach them that’s the only safe way to get somewhere, they get used to it,” she said.
Have a good attitude, and your children will follow.
Probably the biggest way parents can help kids deal with wearing masks is to have a good attitude about it.
“Modeling is going to be important. Kids will live up to the expectations we set for them,” St. Germain said. “Like potty training or other behavior changes, it’ll take time to get used to. But a positive attitude toward the behavior goes a long way.”
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