As kids return to school, the two most important things they need to remember are to wash their hands and wear their masks correctly. For children with sensory sensitivity, wearing a mask could be a big ask for them.
Dr. Mario Martinez is a University Health pediatrician. He has some tips for parents who have questions about how to keep their kids safe this semester.
Masks are safe for children
Parents worry that masks might make it harder for their children to communicate. Young children rely on facial expressions to understand the people around them and masks hide this. “I had some mothers concerned about developmental delays since kids are not seeing mouths, not smiling and can’t see each other’s smiles,” Dr. Martinez said. “Studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics said that masks won’t cause any type of developmental delay or speech delay. They are 100% safe.”
Practice wearing masks at home
Young children and children with sensory sensitivities may have a harder time keeping their mask on.
Dr. Martinez recommends helping your child practice mask wearing at home. Start out by wearing the mask for five minutes at a time, then taking a break. Work your way up until your child can wear the mask for about 20 minutes or more. At school, your child will likely have breaks throughout the day where they can remove their mask.
“Put the mask on a stuffed animal that they like, on a doll, or on a family member,” Dr. Martinez said. “Try to teach them at home how to use the mask. Also, the type of mask matters. Some kids are very sensitive and sometimes wearing a cloth mask or getting a different size can help.”
If your child has sensory sensitivities, here are a few tips to help him or her become used to wearing a mask:
- Desensitize your child by having them hold the mask up to their face and press it on their skin
- Put masks on their favorite stuffed animals and toys to normalize it
- Show them age-appropriate videos and read age-appropriate stories explaining why they have to wear a mask
- Use positive reinforcement to celebrate their progress
The bottom line
Dr. Martinez has two recommendations for families with young children going back to school:
- Vaccinate everyone in the family who is eligible to get vaccinated
- Send your child to school with a mask and hand sanitizer
"If your kid wears a mask, even in an environment where not everybody is wearing one, they see some protection from COVID,” Dr. Martinez said. “It’s more or less 80% that the kid is going to be protected. Ideally, if everyone wears a mask, the protection is around 96%."