• Théa Mercado

Life during the Covid-19 Pandemic: How did we convince my small child to wear a face mask?

Now that the world has come to the consensus that surgical face masks help against the spread of the covid-19 virus many countries including Hong Kong have made it mandatory to wear masks. That means parents suddenly had to come up with strategies to convince their small children to wear them. Here's how we did it.

When there was news of a strange new virus emerging from Wuhan it was only a matter of weeks until masks became a hot commodity in Hong Kong. Yes, there also some toilet paper craziness but stocking up (not hoarding) masks really made sense because Hong Kongers knew from our experience with SARS that wearing masks could limit a virus' spread.


As I am writing this post, everyone over the age of two years is required by law wear a mask in public places, indoors as well as outdoors. It was not mandatory when we taught my son to wear a mask. But most Hong Kong parents already made their kids wear mask at the beginning of 2020. It was a mix of social responsibility and self-preservation that made us follow suit.


The quick overview:

  • Wear a mask yourself

  • Explain why wearing a mask is important

  • Let the mask be their thing

  • Rewards

  • Point out other mask wearers

  • Repeat, repeat, repeat

So we approached it pretty much like potty training. Give yourself and your child some time, as mask acceptance will most likely not happen overnight.


Wear a mask yourself

This is a no-brainer. Once you become a parent you must be the leading example for, well, everything. So every adult in the household wears masks whenever we step out of the house: me, the husband, our helper.


Explain why wearing a mask is important

I am bad at explaining. So after I gave it try with my own words I showed Dex age appropriate snippets of educational youtube videos. Luckily, there are now more available.

TED-Ed Animation: What is the coronavirus? Snippet: 00:28 to 01:55

Coronavirus: How to Teach Kids About COVID-19 Snippet: until 03:00

Safety Measures for Coronavirus Outbreak Snippet: 01:09 until 04:18

Suggest you preview all the clips beforehand and to decide what you show your kids and what not.

If you prefer books check out Coronavirus: A Book for Children illustrated by Axel Sheffler


Let the mask be their thing

Do you prefer disposable or re-usable cloth masks? Once you have done some research regarding material and brands, you can involve your child in making the final choice. Some parents allow their child to draw on their masks or decorate them with stickers.


When we got our son to wear a mask there not many brands to choose from and the aforementioned shortage. But luckily we immediately stumbled over a brand which was quite comfortable for my son's face and head shape. Most masks made for children do not have wires and therefore cannot fit as snugly as the ones for adults. The children's N95 masks from Blue Eagle are curved in a way at the top and the bottom edge so they can follow the curves along the cheeks, nasal bone, and chin. Another bonus is the curved vertical seam at the center for the mask. It lifts the mask a little bit away from the nose and mouth while the edges stay on the face. While it is still super hot and humid outside we are using disposable ones with a cloth mask as spare in each of his backpacks. We will shift to cloth mask once the weather has cooled down a bit.

Our to-go brand at the moment

A mommy friend ordered for her whole family reusable cloth masks online and got her two kids to choose their own fabric so they’d be more excited about wearing them. Both kids are perfectly happy to wear masks when they go out now.


Rewards

Many parents I know turned to rewards to motivate their kids to leave their masks on. In my case it was sheer unapologetic bribery. I would promise Dex he would get a small yummy snack if he put his mask on. "Put on your mask, please. We will get you a chocolate cookie at the shop later." Then I would dangle that promise over his head whenever he was wanted to take off his mask. "No mask, no cookie, darling." If I expose my child to refined sugar I can at least make its manipulative effect last as long as possible. At some point gradually used the snack promise less and less until I completely weaned him of it and did not need any more incentives to put his mask on.


Point out other mask wearers

Whenever we saw other kids wearing masks we would point them out to Dex. Sometimes we would even spot unusual pretty or funny masks. If you have some basic Photoshop skills slap a face mask on Elsa, Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol dogs, Winnie the Pooh or any other cartoon character your child is currently into.


Repeat, repeat, repeat

Like with potty training stick to your guns until the kids get it. The good news is that teaching how to wear a mask is less messy than getting them to use the potty.


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