The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that nearly everyone wear a cloth face covering – a mask – when in a community setting such as a grocery store or pharmacy. This recommendation means we need to consider how to acclimate our children to the idea of wearing a face covering, teach them how to do so properly and understand in which circumstances children shouldn't wear masks.
The idea behind wearing a face mask is to protect yourself, your children and others from exposure to Covid-19. Children may be asymptomatic yet still have the potential to spread coronavirus. By wearing a mask, they will help stop the spread.
Remember, though, that wearing a face mask is not a substitution for social distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from others – and hand washing. Washing hands with soap and water after being in a public place is critical to preventing spread of Covid-19.
Should Babies Wear Masks?
While the CDC recommends most people wear face masks, the recommendation clearly states that children under age 2 should not wear face coverings.
That's because masks can be a choking or suffocation risk for infants, who have small airways. Masks also can become a strangulation hazard for babies.
Since having a baby wear a face mask is considered unsafe, caregivers should try to keep their children out of community settings as much as possible. Many doctors’ visits, for example, can now be conducted over the phone or through a video or virtual visit.
If you must take a child under age 2 to the grocery store, wipe down the shopping cart with a disinfecting wipe before placing the child in the seat. Try to go out during off-peak hours and practice social distancing guidelines.
If you need to go into the community with your child, keep young children in strollers or infant carriers and place a light blanket over the stroller or carrier. Children younger than 9 months will probably leave the blanket in place. As babies get older, however, they may try to remove the blanket. In those cases, parents can consider purchasing stroller covers that are harder for children to remove.
Do not, under any circumstances, leave your baby unattended in a car.
Involve Your Children
Some children older than age 2 may be fearful and nervous about wearing a mask. Explain that wearing a mask can protect them and others from germs. Use simple, direct language.
You also can consider showing children age-appropriate videos about germs or about people wearing masks.
Other ways to allay children's fears:
- Let children decorate their own masks. Perhaps the child can pick out the fabric – a thin fabric, like a handkerchief or bandanna, is best for children – and paint it, dye it or color it with markers. Make sure you wash the mask prior to wearing it to remove any chemicals or fumes from the decorating process. Turning mask making into an art project can give children a sense of accomplishment. They likely will be more willing to wear a mask that is truly theirs.
- Allow children to make masks for dolls or stuffed animals. This is a great way for children to feel as if they are protecting items they love. That sense of empowerment will help them feel more in control and more willing to wear their own face covering.
- Practice wearing masks at home. Adults can model face coverings for their children, and children can get comfortable by wearing masks in the house.
Recognize, however, that some children older than age 2 won't be developmentally ready or able to wear a mask. This is a particular concern with some autistic children and those with developmental delays who may not understand to keep the mask in place and not to touch the mask when it's on the face. In these cases, it's best to keep the child out of high-risk settings.
Wearing a Face Covering
The face mask should cover the child's nose and mouth. It should be tight enough that it doesn't fall off the face but still comfortable enough for the child to tolerate.
Parents should put masks on children's faces unless children are developmentally able to do so themselves. Parents should remind children not to touch a mask when its on.'
When it's time to remove the mask, parents should take it off the child, being careful not to touch the outer fabric. Remove the mask by touching the rubber or elastic bands or by the tied fabric at the back of the head.
Wash homemade masks as soon as possible, preferably in warm or hot water in the washing machine, and dry the mask in a hot dryer.
Remember, wearing a face mask is just one tool to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Staying home as much as possible, following social distancing guidelines and thoroughly washing hands, are critical steps we can take to keep ourselves – and our children – healthy.
Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, P.C. (Permanente) is our network of over 1,500 physicians who practice in our medical centers located in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.