Wearing a face mask during these challenging times can be as difficult for adults as it is for children. Yet, grownups are able to quite easily grasp the concept of danger and endure the feeling of cloth touching their face, nose, and lips. For kids, especially the youngest of toddlers, the situation is different – unaware of diseases as they are, they hardly ever submit to sturdy parents trying to get them to cover their tiny faces.
As a toddler mom, I’ve been contemplating what my strategy should be when it comes to this, hoping against all hope that, by the time we find ourselves in an airport environment, all of this will be part of a dark past never to be mentioned again. Alas, life seems to be taking us in a different direction, requiring me – just like many other parents (and probably including you, too!) – to educate my own toddler on how to properly wear a face mask and why he, in fact, should.
After doing all the homework and going through the process with my son, keeping all this knowledge to myself would be rather selfish, so I’m giving you my best tips and practices on how to get your toddler to wear a mask and stay safe in an area crowded with people!
1. Start the preparation early.
If you’re planning on traveling or being in a crowded area, it’s best if you start preparing your toddler for wearing a mask early. Don’t wait for the day of your flight to try to calmly explain how important masks are these days – your patience will run out a lot quicker than it would about a month before the big day. A whole month may be too much preparation time for older children, but for toddlers aged from 2 to 3, getting them familiarized with face masks earlier is better than later!
2. Show, don’t tell.
Make sure to wear a face mask in the comfort of your home, so your child can see you – but also take some time to stand together in front of a mirror while wearing masks, so your little one can actually see what it is that you have in common. Even if you’re wearing one and trying to get your toddler to do the same, they often don’t connect your face gadget to the sensation of them having that same mask, unless they see it in their own reflection.
3. Put the face mask on their favorite stuffed animals (and get your child to put it on them, too!).
Teddy bears are often seen as friends, and the most important thing about friendship is trust. Even with no other kids around, your own LO can benefit from peer influence if one of their favorite plushies makes sure to stay safe!
4. Make the surgical mask look pretty.
If you haven’t got one of those pretty cloth masks with child-friendly prints, and you trust the surgical ones more, that’s totally fine. To get your kid to wear the plain one, though, you may have to get crafty and color the mask together – just make sure you don’t damage it in the process!
5. Show your child other kids their age who wear masks.
Even with social distancing, you can still get your child to be influenced by their peers – Google Images and YouTube videos are full of kids practicing safe measures. Get comfy, grab a snack, and tell a cool story about all those kids, and why they’re awesome when they wear their tiny masks!
6. Use simple words to get to the point.
Even if your toddler is just starting to understand full sentences, you can still get the message out there if you use simple words. Chances are, they’ve already been introduced to words like “sick”, “safe”, and even “must”. Use as many familiar words as you can to try to explain why wearing a mask is important (and even fun)!
7. Place masks in the play area.
Sometimes, kids who are simply around masks, even if they’re not encouraged to touch them or put them on, can get used to having them on their face because they’ve seen them laying around. Say nothing; simply plant a few of them in your child’s playroom. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when, one day soon, your toddler puts the mask on, trying to look just like Mom or Dad!
8. Be patient.
Teaching a young child how to wear a mask can feel like a doomed task. At times, it’s infuriating, and you may secretly start wishing for your little one to stop being so tiny and cute, and grow up a little bit. That’s okay – those feelings are normal, valid, and even expected. Give your child plenty of time, but give yourself some grace, too. Nobody expects you to teach them this new, scary thing in a day or two. It took us adults long enough, afterall!
9. Introduce awards.
When you get your child to wear a mask, even for a few seconds, they should know they’ve done well – therefore, don’t be afraid to introduce small treats to award the behavior. Handing out cookies or stickers more often than usual shouldn’t become the norm, but it’s okay to be more generous in the beginning of this awkward adaptation!
10. Normalize mask wearing.
Once your toddler is used to wearing the mask for a little while, practice doing it while performing the usual daily activities – watching TV, playing on the floor, going for a walk, feeding the animals etc. Before you know it, they’ll forget it’s even on!
I hope these tips will help you get your toddler to get used to mask wearing – and if you’ve got some advice of your own, I’d love to read about them in the comments! Stay safe, and good luck!
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