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Back to School: Mask-Wearing Best Practices for Your Children

Here are the mask-wearing best practices you need to know, from best types of masks, to how often they need to be washed.

This back-to-school season feels much different from years past. Many schools are choosing to start the year off virtually or part-time. And those who are deciding to resume in-person classes have many new guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the classroom.

Wearing a mask at school will be essential in mitigating the risk of spreading the coronavirus, but many kids may have a hard time adjusting to this new routine. If your children are heading back to the classroom, it’s important to talk to them about how to properly wear a mask while at school. To get some insight on mask-wearing best practices for kids, we spoke with two physicians at Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children: Dr. Salwa Sulieman, pediatric infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Christopher Wilbur, pediatric specialist.

The Importance of Masks

Although the number of coronavirus cases is not as prevalent in children as in adults, we’re starting to see an uptick in pediatric cases now. Dr. Wilbur stresses, “Now that kids are returning to school we could theoretically see situations where they bring COVID-19 home and transmit it to parents, the elderly or immunocompromised people.”

One of the best ways we can protect others from the coronavirus is by wearing a mask. “Masks primarily provide protection to everyone else around the wearer from their own secretions or bodily fluids that may be infected with the virus,” says Dr. Sulieman. Masks work best when everyone is wearing them to protect those around them.

Explaining this to children might seem challenging, but studies have shown that children as young as age two can understand the importance of mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing when they’re told it’s to help protect those around them.

Types of Masks for Children

In general, kids can wear the same type of masks as adults wear: cloth, medical-grade, or disposable. The key to effective mask-wearing is making sure it’s easy for your child to wear it properly without a lot of adjusting.

The masks that provide the most protection are the ones that cover both their mouth and nose and fit their face so they aren’t messing with it during the day. —Dr. Sulieman

If you’re buying or making a reusable mask, you should make sure that a double or triple layer of cotton is used.

Try out a few different masks before your child starts the school year to make sure you find one that’s comfortable for them to wear all day. There are a lot of different styles of masks—some tie behind the head and others loop behind the ear. You may also choose one with a bendable nose piece that may make it easier to keep on during the day.

As a parent, you should think about ways to make mask-wearing fun for your child. Try making or buying masks with a fun fabric that features their favorite cartoon character or superhero. Make the mask a fun new accessory to wear to school, just like a new pair of sneakers or a backpack. This way kids can be excited to show their masks off to friends at school.

Young girl wearing a colorful protective face mask

Mask Hygiene

Parents and teachers often stress the importance of proper handwashing with children and should do the same for mask hygiene. Dr. Wilbur says, “Keep in mind that children should try to wash their hands before and after touching their mask.” Proper handwashing is always best, but hand sanitizer made with 60% alcohol will also work when soap and water are not available.

If your child is wearing cloth masks, be sure to wash them frequently. “Ideally, children should have a clean mask for every day of the school week, plus a clean backup mask at all times,” Dr. Sulieman says. If your child’s mask becomes wet or soiled at any time, they should switch to a new mask immediately.

Dealing with Common Issues

It may be a concern that your child will refuse to wear a mask when they go back to school. If it seems like they’re wary of masks because they’re afraid to wear one, the most important thing to do is to normalize them. “Show that everyone is wearing a mask to protect those around them. And talk about how wearing a mask is important for things to get back to normal,” says Dr. Sulieman.

One way to ease fear and trepidation of wearing a mask is to practice wearing them around the house or when going out in public. Make a game out of it and see how long you can go with your masks on.

Your child may also have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. In this case, a face shield would be the next best option. “Face shields will provide protection for the wearer, but aren’t as effective in protecting those around them,” Dr. Sulieman advises. Children who can’t wear masks should also take care to maintain a safe social distance from others at all times.

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COVID-19, Healthy You