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Kids and masking: How to protect the health of your child as they head back to school
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Kids and masking: How to protect the health of your child as they head back to school

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Cute elementary schoolboy with backpack going back to school dur

As we enter the 2021-2022 school year, here’s what we know:

• Millions of children under 12 will be starting the school year unvaccinated.

• The circulating Delta variant is extremely contagious and hitting the unvaccinated population the hardest.

• Masking — especially in large numbers — is effective in preventing the spread of the virus. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) also recommend masking for everyone 2 and older.

It seems simple, right? If masking works, let’s all come together and do the right thing. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of resistance toward this small measure that protects the health of our children and communities.

Parents, if you want to be proactive about protecting the health of your child, get them vaccinated when they’re eligible. Empower them to continue handwashing, social distancing and — perhaps most importantly — masking.

The physical and emotional impact of 'optional' masking

Most current school masking policies include the words “optional” or “recommended,” which sounds like a win-win for all. But when you leave the choice up to kids — regardless of what their parents are asking them to do at school — many are bound to choose the most comfortable, convenient option: going maskless. Especially when Mom and Dad aren’t there to keep tabs.

One mom recently told me that her children were the only masked students at a school open house. Never mind that her children are too young to understand why they have to wear a mask when their peers don’t. Here’s what really worried her: How much protection are her children’s masks providing if no one else around them is following suit? The best answer I have is: only some protection.

Some of my teenage patients have even confided in me recently, saying they’re reluctant to wear masks out of fear of being bullied. This is unacceptable. Our children should not be ashamed of being proactive with their health. Parents, teachers and school administrators need to advocate for our children — one of our most vulnerable populations — by putting their health first.

No matter your arguments for or against masking, everyone should feel comfortable protecting their health and the health of their loved ones. Make sure your attitudes and conversations at home reflect that.

How to encourage masking in kids

Despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AAP and PIDS, most schools are not mandating masks. Still, it’s important to help your child understand the importance of making healthy choices — and that includes masking up.

Have the conversation with them today:

• Help them understand why masking is necessary. It’s not a punishment. It’s out of love. Until they’re eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, wearing a mask will keep them healthy so they can continue doing all the things they enjoy.

• Avoid confusion. Let them know when and where it’s acceptable to take a break from their mask.

• Consider a lanyard so their mask stays clean and around their neck when they’re eating and drinking. And send them with a couple back-up masks in a plastic baggie that’s tucked inside their backpack. If their mask ends up in the dirt, on the cafeteria floor or worse, they’ll be ready with a clean one.

• Show them how to wear a mask appropriately — over their nose and mouth.

• It’s OK to check in with your child’s teachers. Let your kids know that you’ll be doing so. If their teachers can’t report that your child’s been masking appropriately, consider age-appropriate consequences (limited TV or tablet time, etc.).

• Set an example. Even if you’re vaccinated, show your kids that masking is something you do as a family. As contagious as the Delta variant is, all individuals — vaccinated or not — should consider masking in public places right now.

The importance of vaccination

If you’re a parent who’s still on the fence about vaccinating your eligible child, please understand: The chance of your child experiencing serious, life-threatening complications with COVID-19 far outweighs the chance of them experiencing complications with the vaccine.

Vaccinated children also protect people around them, such as those who cannot get the vaccine or those in whom the vaccine is less effective.

It’s estimated that those under 12 may be eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the fall. Until then, continue to encourage masking — and help keep your child as safe and healthy as possible as they head back to school.

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