Masks for 7 hours a day? How we can start prepping kids now

Expert tips on getting kids for a new school reality.

Masks for 7 hours a day? How we can start prepping kids now
Brynn Anderson/AP
August 4, 2020, 4:09 AM

With so much about school reopenings around the nation still unknown, one thing seems certain: If schools do reopen for in-person learning, many of those same schools will require children to wear masks.

Even if your child has become accustomed to wearing a mask to enter a store or play on the playground, chances are even the most compliant best mask-wearers have yet to wear one for seven hours a day, as they may be expected to in school.

"Parents have asked me this question a lot in recent weeks; their main concern has been, 'Will it cause breathing problems?' And the answer is no," Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician in New York City, told "Good Morning America."

She has, however, been asking families in her practice to educate the children on not touching their faces while wearing the mask.

"I've suggested they make it a game, pointing out in a playful way when they've touched their face," Bracho-Sanchez said. "I've been saying this because while we absolutely need them to wear their masks, if they're constantly touching their face with dirty hands, they may catch a number of things more easily, not only COVID-19."

"GMA" consulted with child development experts to get their top tips for what parents can do now -- prior to school resuming -- to best teach their kids about mask-wearing best practices.

Get the right fit

Danielle LoVecchio, executive director of Bridge Kids New York and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, said you may need to try multiple options before finding the right fit.

If your child has sensory issues, LoVecchio recommends parents "rub the material on the child's hands and then face to ensure comfortability and acclimate to the new texture before requiring them to wear the mask on their face."

And don't forget to get them used to the feeling of pulling on the ears, she said: "This is an uncommon feeling and may seem uncomfortable. You can do this by practicing hanging the mask on the ears before pulling it over their mouth."

Set clear expectations

"It's only fair to your child to set them up for success by communicating clearly what you expect from them in relation to wearing their mask," said Megan Elizabeth Sedlacek, early childhood expert and Head of Product at Batelle Remote Sleep School, adding that predictability and consistency creates a sense of security.

"Just as you would help kids to visualize their day, sit them down and help them to visualize the expectations around mask wearing," she said. "Use a day planner with visuals, or make a custom book, for example, 'Hazel Wears Her Mask' to help them familiarize themselves with how it may look and feel."

Model what you want your kids to imitate

LoVecchio said when you are asking your child to wear a mask, you should wear it along with them.

"Model wearing a mask frequently around the child and wear the mask around the house, " she suggested.

Another idea is to arrange socially distancing playdates to practice wearing the mask and have peer models.

Make it fun

Sedlacek suggested a remote of small-group mask decorating party. Kids can make masks for their stuffed animals or display it in their rooms.

LoVecchio told "GMA" to have kids help in picking out their own mask so they are more motivated to wear it. Matching with a friend or family, having a favorite character on a mask, using different masks for days of the week and doing other activities are all ways kids will get onboard more quickly.

And photos go a long way: while Sedlacek suggested taking lots of photos of the mask decorating party, LoVecchio said to let kids take selfies with fun filters while wearing the mask.

Start small and stay positive

"Start by having the child wear the mask for short periods of time throughout the day, for example, 1-3 minutes, 10 times a day," LoVecchio told "GMA." "Slowly increase the length of time that they keep the mask on for as the child becomes more acclimated."

Increase the time by having sibling contests on who can wear it longer or have them color in a chart for all the minutes they wore the mask all day to earn something special, she also suggested.

"While the child is wearing the mask, pair having the mask on with positive activities. If you only have the child wear the mask during non-preferred activities the mask will become unpreferred as well," LoVecchio said.

Watching TV or an iPad or playing games are all activities that can easily be paired with mask wearing.

"Reinforce the small steps they are taking towards putting the mask on by giving social praise," she said. "Never punish your child for refusing to put a mask on, or for taking the mask off before you tell them to. Keep it positive and try again."

The bottom line

"I think it's hard for parents to imagine their kids doing this right now, but many forget that kids take cues from their friends and their teachers," said Bracho-Sanchez. "I am very hopeful that when they get back to school and look around and see everyone else is wearing masks, they'll go, 'Oh, OK!' and keep it on."

And keep the conversation going.

"Bring [mask wearing] up every now and then, saying things like, 'School is going to be a little different this fall, how are you feeling about that?' I'm finding some kids are scared and anxious, and what scares them is not always what adults think is scaring them," said Bracho-Sanchez.

Sedlacek said patience is key.

"Remember it may not happen overnight: Kids will process the change at varying degrees," she said. "Some may take a month! So don't wait, start sooner rather than later. Even if your child is starting school remotely, ask your teacher at school to have a mask wearing day or an expectation that the kids all wear their masks during the morning meeting or circle time for example. This way, they can get used to the remote version of this process where there is more room for error before they get to school."