As a parent of a child about to enter Kindergarten at a school with a hybrid option, I have some fears, however I have confidence in my child that he will be able to follow the safety protocols and procedures.
When I first heard that my son’s school would re-open, I had to think about how this was going to look for us from a COVID-19 perspective. Is this what any of us want right now? No. The world is a seemingly scary place, especially for parents and people who have isolated, worked from home for the past five months, and have not had a chance to do much besides go to the grocery store. The idea of returning to a school is daunting for many parents and educators and I understand that fear.
I also decided that based on the statistics about the success of eliminating spread wearing a mask, and that the reality of COVID-19 going away anytime soon is slim, it was ultimately my job as a parent to train my child to help with preventing infection to us and others—even if it meant extra work on my part. I know there is a lot of fear about training children to wear masks, but at some point, I personally think we all need to help our children understand how to be part of the prevention, understand disease, spread, and protect themselves and others.
About two months ago, I started to train my three- and five-year-olds how to wear their mask and surprisingly, it was not as hard as I anticipated. We started with short 20-minute walks around the neighborhood wearing our masks with an incentive of a snack when we arrived home if the masks could be worn for the duration of the walk. We walked daily, and soon, my kids started to enjoy wearing their masks. The 20-minute walks turned into 45-minute walks and the final incentive was their first trip to a local bakery since March 16. The bakery trip was meant to begin teaching them about not touching anything inside the store, sanitizing their hands, and maintaining social distance from others. Both children managed to wear their masks on an airplane flight about a week later. Successfully, they wore their masks from airport drop off in Minneapolis, to our pick-up at our destination. They wore their masks for five hours and the duration of our trip. Again, my children are three and five years old.
Because children are so resilient in many different ways, and thrive on routines, wearing a mask was teachable, and is now part of our norm. It has not created a sense of anxiety for them the more we discuss COVID-19, but rather relief because we created a new routine. If parents are able to talk with their children without creating fear about COVID-19, it will be easier to teach about wearing masks, practicing social distancing and proper sanitation.
Here are a few ideas for parents as they train their children to wear masks, especially the younger kids, that created the most success for me.
• If it is possible, get matching masks. My children loved that idea because they were wearing the same mask as me.
• Make sure the masks are adjustable and made with breathable and comfortable material and if the mask is too big, knot the elastic.
• Find a fun activity to do and have the family all wear their masks while doing it. Whether that is a hike, walk, bike ride, or even a car ride, it all is helpful in training — especially when you are all doing it together.
• Praise your children frequently even if they keep their mask on the first time for five minutes. If they take it off, put it back on for them with more encouragement. The more praise they receive, the more empowered they are to continue wearing it.
• If you are okay with incentives, develop one that works for you and your child as they can continue to wear their mask for longer amounts of time. That could be a special snack, watching a movie together, or a special activity together as a reward.
• Most importantly, continue to have conversations with your children about why wearing a mask is important, who it protects, and why combining hand washing and sanitizing is also essential.
My hope when parents send their children back to a hybrid model or full in person learning, is that they do not wait until the last minute to try and train their children to wear masks, and also do not rely on the teachers at the school to take on this task. With a little patience, you may find success with mask training before the upcoming school year begins.
Below: (Photo by Marla Khan-Schwartz)