How to Get Your Kid to Wear a Face Mask

If you run into a situation where wearing a face mask is best, here are some tips to help young kids wear a mask and keep it on.

Mother wearing a homemade protective mask and putting one to her daughter
Photo: ti-ja/Getty Images

Mask guidance has evolved over the course of the pandemic, but as of February 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially changed its stance to recommend wearing masks based on local infection numbers and individual risk. Nationwide, most places—including air travel and public transportation—don't require face masks anymore.

However, the CDC continues to recommend face masks as a critical public health tool and provides Americans with statistics like COVID-19 community levels, to help monitor local transmission risk. In areas deemed to have a "high" community level, wearing a mask when indoors in public spaces is recommended. If an area's risk level changes, local governments or businesses can reinstate mask mandates as they see appropriate. While universal masking may not be required, individuals who are at high risk may still choose to wear face masks to protect themselves and their families from infection.

Now, that may be all well and good, but many parents have one major question: How the heck do I keep a mask on my toddler? Here's what to know, plus tips from experts on getting everyone to cooperate.

Mask Recommendations for Children

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), well-fitting, age-appropriate masks are safe for kids over the age of 2, including those with health conditions and disabilities (with rare exceptions). The AAP backs the CDC's recommendation for wearing masks in areas where community level risk is considered "high," including for children.

In addition to wearing masks in communities deemed "high" risk, the AAP also recommends that children over 2 wear masks in public settings in the following situations:

It's important to note, however, that the AAP does not recommend masks for children under the age of 2 under any circumstances.

What Masks Are Best for Kids?

Experts say that the best masks for kids are those that are well-fitting and comfortable enough to wear consistently. These can include cloth or disposable masks as well as respirators (like those labeled N95 and KN95).

Though some mask types are more protective than others, the CDC reminds Americans that any mask is better than no mask—and a consistent, proper fit is among the most important factors. For parents of young kids, one of the biggest challenges has been finding masks that fit their child's face properly with no gaps, but more kid-friendly mask options have become available.

The CDC also offers a mask guide to help parents choose the type of mask that is best for their family. They recommend:

  • Ensuring the mask fits snugly over your child's nose and under their mouth, but doesn't impair their vision
  • Following all instructions for the type of mask you choose
  • Talking with a doctor if your child has special needs and needs accommodations with their mask

You can also find free N95 masks through the CDC if you are in need of a free mask.

How Do I Get My Child to Cooperate?

But now to the nitty-gritty: How in the world do you keep a mask on a headstrong toddler or sneaky preschooler? As you might have guessed, it's probably going to take some work. One great tip, according to Atlanta-based pediatrician, Jennifer Shu, M.D., is to make it fun.

"Give kids a matching mask for a favorite doll or stuffed animal to wear," she says. "Or make a superhero mask to go with their superhero outfit and let them dress up for their trip out of the house."

Allowing kids to decorate their own masks is another great way to ease into wearing them and has the added bonus of fostering a sense of autonomy in young kids. Children will feel some sense of control over the situation when the mask is something they created themselves and will be more likely to wear it without much fuss.

And because most children look to their parents for appropriate social cues, modeling mask-wearing is important.

It's also important to practice wearing masks (and not touching them) at home before you venture out into the world, says Dr. Shu. Young children who aren't familiar with masks may fidget with them, causing them to touch their faces more than they normally would. Normalizing mask-wearing in a low-risk situation is the best way to practice and ensure success when you venture out in the world together.

And don't forget: Kids will be kids, so it's always a good idea to keep up with regular hand-washing and avoid situations where exposure risk could be high if your child or other family members may be at high risk.

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