It's a struggle to even keep clothes on a toddler—how are we supposed to keep a coronavirus mask on their face?

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

After weeks of recommending that face masks be reserved for use by members of the medical community, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently pivoted and announced that all Americans should wear cloth face coverings—and not surgical masks and N-95 respirators, which are still only recommended for health care workers—when venturing into public spaces where social distancing is difficult to maintain, like supermarkets, train stations, bus stops, and airports.

Since the announcement, the internet has been awash in DIY mask-making tutorials, 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 recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kid mask-wearing isn't all or none, there's some leeway. First, and most importantly, children under the age of 2 should not wear masks due to suffocation and choking hazards. Also, if proper social distancing protocols are followed—keeping children at least six feet from other people—masks are not necessary. Children with cognitive or respiratory impairments should not wear masks, and if they do, respiration should be monitored with a pulse oximeter when possible.

The AAP recommends masks for of-age kids who will be in public places where social distancing might not be possible, like doctor's offices, public transit, and grocery stores, but best practice is to leave kids at home whenever possible.

What Masks Are Best for Kids?

Experts are recommending that people use homemade cloth face masks so as not to increase the demand for medical-grade masks that health care workers need. DIY tutorials for sew and no-sew mask options are readily available online and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams even posted a video showing an easy method using a T-shirt and two rubber bands.

The CDC recommends using two layers of tightly-woven material like high thread count sheets and a series of tests from Wake Forest Baptist Health found that an outer layer of 100 percent cotton combined with an inner layer of flannel "performed well" at blocking virus particles.

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 avoid unintentional exposure out in the world.

The most important thing to remember is that children can be asymptomatic carriers, meaning they can transmit the virus without ever showing symptoms themselves, which is why keeping them home is the only surefire way to prevent transmission and keep everyone safe.