As we approach mid-summer, many parents are anxiously planning for their children’s return to school. Though going back to school presents a small step towards a sense of normalcy and routine, it also gives rise to many legitimate questions about how to protect your child from COVID-19 when they return to class.

Many schools are enforcing policies around social distancing and the wearing of masks, following the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that everyone older than age 2 wear a face covering in public unless they have significant breathing problems. Whether you’ve been bringing your child along to the grocery store or for a walk around the park, it is likely they have had to wear a mask for some period of time. But what about wearing a mask for a full day at school? How can we normalize the wearing of masks and ensure their efficacy in schools?

Donna Housman, Ed.D, founder and CEO of the Boston-based Housman Institute reminds us that children learn best through modeling and repetition. If you, as the caregiver, show your child that wearing a mask for a long period of time throughout the day is okay, your child will likely feel the same. Find our other suggestions for successful mask-enforcement below:

  1. Give them control: Allow your child to choose their mask out of a selection you provide. Giving them control in this situation will make them feel empowered in their choice and make them proud to sport an accessory they had a hand in choosing.
  2. Be honest about their purpose: When your child questions the purpose of wearing a mask, be honest about their purpose. Explain that masks keep them and others around them safe from germs that are spread through coughing, talking, even laughing.
  3. Calm their fears: If your child expresses anxiety or fear about the pandemic and the new precautions being enforced, discuss these feelings openly with them. Validate their feelings, let them know if you have been feeling similarly, and that these feelings are completely normal! Modeling openness around the discussion of emotions will normalize it for your child and will encourage and reassure them to remain open about these matters.
  4. Make it fun: Try to introduce some fun into the equation by allowing your child to decorate their own mask with skin-safe dyes or markers. If you are even more creatively inclined, follow a sewing pattern for children’s face masks online and have your child choose their own unique fabric and design. You can also make a game of who can wear their mask the longest and track progress on a sticker chart. Be creative and embrace some fun in these unusual times.

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