May 26, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Aswine Bal, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
By: Kelly Shepsko
In light of recommendations from the CDC that people should wear masks in public settings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents have many questions about whether or not children should wear masks and how to effectively do so if needed. Aswine Bal, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health, explains when a child should wear a mask and why it’s important.
Why is it important for a child to wear a mask right now?
COVID-19 can spread in numerous ways, especially when people are in close contact. Studies show that many individuals who are carrying the virus do not show symptoms, making it possible for them to spread the virus without realizing it.
“Wearing a mask helps prevent those who have symptoms, like a cough, and those without symptoms, from spreading the virus to others when they express viral droplets from their nose or mouth through things like coughing, sneezing or speaking,” says Dr. Bal. “It can also help a person keep their hands away from their face, so they are less likely to infect themselves after touching a contaminated surface or person.”
When should my child wear a mask?
Children over the age of two should wear a mask:
- When they are in settings where social distancing (at least 6 feet away from others) cannot be maintained, including both indoor and outdoor environments.
- When they are in an area where they can be in contact with surfaces that the virus could have been shed and are unable to keep their hands off the surfaces.
- If they are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, such as coughing, fever and other symptoms that present in children with the virus.
If the child is at home with other household members, they do not need to wear a mask, unless they may have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. Children should not wear a mask:
- If they are under the age of two
- If they have any trouble breathing
- If they are unable to remove the mask without assistance
“Remember that the most effective measure against exposure to the virus is staying home,” adds Dr. Bal. “Only bring your children out into the public when you absolutely need to. This is also the best way to protect children under the age of two.”
Why is my child afraid of masks, and how can I make the concept less scary?
Masks can be scary for children because they hide part of the face, and from an early age, children look at faces for signals they need to feel safe. Not seeing a smile or an expression that is familiar to them can be frightening.
Here’s how to help make your child more comfortable with wearing a mask:
- Wear a mask yourself, and let them know it’s ok if they feel scared
- Allow them to practice wearing a mask and teach them how to put it on and take it off before going out in public
- Make wearing a mask fun by having them decorate their mask if the fabric allows or using a fun and friendly pattern for masks made at home
- Put a mask on a favorite stuffed animal, or draw a mask on their favorite book character
- Explain the importance of wearing a mask before trying to put the mask on them
How can I explain the importance of wearing a mask to my child?
Getting a child to understand the importance of wearing a mask can help make the process easier. Be honest (but not scary) about how a mask helps prevent everyone from spreading germs. Explain that acts such as sneezing and coughing can sometimes spread bad germs, and wearing a mask offers a protective barrier. Research activities that can help make them more comfortable with health care settings, such as this matching game.
How can I make sure my child is wearing a mask correctly?
For a mask to provide proper protection, it should be covering the nose and mouth entirely, and not be touched while wearing, as contamination can occur. Once the mask is on the child, make sure they are able to breathe effectively. When it’s ready to be removed, make sure it’s removed by the straps or ties.
“Make sure that your child washes their hands before they put their mask on (or you wash your hands before you put it on them) and after it’s taken off,” adds Dr. Bal. “This will prevent any germs that are on the hands or mask from spreading. If the child uses a cloth mask, it should be washed after each use.”
Resources and Next Steps:
- Should You Wear a Mask Outside?
- 5 Questions About Face Masks
- Ways to Help Kids Cope with Coronavirus Fears
- Taking Kids to the Emergency Department During the COVID-19 Outbreak
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.