Mother putting mask on young child

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says everyone age 5 and older should get vaccinated against COVID-19. To maximize protection and help slow the spread of the virus and its variants, regardless of vaccination status, a mask should be worn in public indoor spaces in areas of substantial or high transmission. This applies to children as well.

In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings (though you should consider having your child wear one, especially if they are not fully vaccinated, in crowded outdoor settings and for activities involving close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated). The CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (as well as staff, teachers and visitors) at K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required on all public transportation, including school buses. Children under 2 years of age should not wear a mask.

Wearing a mask in public settings, especially when attending school or daycare in person, can help make a difference in keeping your child and other children safe. Here is more on why kids need masks and how to help your child get used to wearing them:

Should Kids Wear Masks?

Most children should wear a mask. Your child should not wear a mask if they:

  • Are younger than 2 years old
  • Have a condition that makes it difficult to breathe
  • Have developmental disabilities or can't remove the mask by themselves

Why Kids Need Masks

There are many myths pertaining to whether children need face masks for protection against COVID-19. Many people believe kids are immune to the virus. Another common belief is that kids can spread the virus only if they have symptoms. However, neither claim is true.

Children can, in fact, contract COVID-19. They typically experience only mild symptoms and can be treated at home, but a small number of kids can develop life-threatening symptoms or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Learn more about what to do if your child gets COVID-19.

Children, like adults, can also spread the virus even if they don't have symptoms. Masks can help keep them from potentially spreading the virus to others.

Explaining Masks to Kids

Before discussing the importance of masks with them, talk to your kids about the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Explain the different prevention methods: Talk about what social distancing means, what germs are and the importance of handwashing.

Once they understand the basics, you can explain why masks are important for adults as well as kids. To put it in terms they will understand, simply tell them that masks keep germs from spreading between people. Use simple, neutral words that won't frighten them. Let them know that they should wear masks when they go out in public, especially when indoors or if they can't stay six feet away from others when participating in outdoor activities.

If your child will be attending school in person, let them know they can expect to see other kids wearing masks at school.

Helping Kids Mask Up Properly

Even if your kid can understand why they need to wear a mask, it may be challenging for them to wear it correctly. This is especially true for younger children.

Here are some ways you can help your kid mask properly while at school or daycare.

Make Masks a Rule

Let your child know that wearing a mask in public isn't optional, that it's just as important as any other family rule or safety precaution, like looking both ways before crossing the street or never going anywhere with a stranger. Explain that this precaution applies to their school or daycare.

Make Masks Fun

Just because they have to wear a mask doesn't mean it can't be fun. For younger kids, have their favorite stuffed animal wear a mask, or encourage them to make masks part of imaginative play, such as pretending to go to the store.

Consider getting masks that feature their favorite color, TV character, superhero or sports team. You can also let your kid pick a mask they like or decorate their masks. If they are older, they can even make their own kids' masks.

Practice Masking

If you are sending your child to in-person school or daycare, you will not be around to enforce masking. Practice putting a mask on properly (and keeping it on!) so they are used to it before they are around other kids.

Choose the Right Mask

There are many different types of kids' masks available for purchase, so it's important to understand the pros and cons of each before making a selection.

Make sure that the mask is sized properly, fits snugly against their face, and covers their nose and mouth. A poorly fitted or uncomfortable mask might be worn incorrectly or removed often. Choose a size that fits over the child's nose and under the chin but does not impair vision. If your child has a medical condition, such as a heart or lung problem, ask their healthcare provider before using methods for improving mask fit. If they will be going outside in the heat, be sure to choose a kids' mask for hot weather.

Take a Break

If your child will need to wear a mask for a long time, try to build in "break times" where they can isolate from others and take the mask off for a few minutes.

These refreshing breaks allow the opportunity to practice safely readjusting the mask when they put it back on. If they will be attending school or a child care facility, ask a teacher if they have a safe place where kids can do this.

Ask About Their Feelings

Whether your kid is younger or older, it's important to check in with them. Ask them how they feel about wearing a mask. If your child is older, ask them about their feelings about the pandemic in general.

Validate their feelings but also express your own. Kids should know that while masks are necessary, it's normal to have negative feelings about the situation.

Be a Good Role Model

It's important for kids to have good role models when it comes to masking. Adults, older siblings and other members of the family should wear face masks when appropriate. Modeling good behavior for your kid can go a long way.

Updated 12/16/2021

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