I can’t believe I’m even writing a piece on teaching a toddler to wear a face mask. I’ve debated whether to post this, because I’m still dumbfounded at what our world and our country are going through right now. A post like this shouldn’t need to exist—but that’s the world we’re living in at the moment.
Writing a post about teaching a toddler to wear a face mask seems a little bit ridiculous. Why do it, after all, when children this young aren’t required to wear a mask (and most people wouldn’t expect us to even attempt the feat)? That I’m publishing this doesn’t mean I’m expecting parents of toddlers to do this and judging them if they don’t. It’s just an acknowledgement that there are parents out there like me there who, for various personal reasons, would like to teach their child to wear a face mask. This post is for all of those parents!
Teaching my toddler to wear a face mask began with our pediatrician recommending that we try; she thought we’d be in this for the long haul, and unfortunately, she was right.
Lydia is learning, but I’m not going to pretend like my toddler always wears a mask now—far from it! I’m thankful she’s not legally required to, because I couldn’t trust to bring her anywhere! But I’ve learned enough over the last few months to start passing along what works for us and what doesn’t—so other parens can start throwing spaghetti at the wall
*A note of caution and safety here: The World Health Organization cautions that if a child under 5 is going to wear a mask, “a parent or other guardian should be within direct line of sight to supervise the safe use of the mask.” This post is meant for the kinds of outings where your child is under your direct supervision at all times, like runnings errands.
So, if teaching a toddler to wear a face mask is on your radar, read on for my best tips.
#1: Don’t expect perfection
We’re trying to teach our children a new thing, and they aren’t going to do it perfectly overnight. We have to celebrate our successes along the way towards the ultimate goal of the mask covering both nose and mouth for the entire duration of the outing. There’s still value in the mask hanging on their ears, even though it’s bunched up under their chin—they’re getting used to the feeling of the strings on their ears. Likewise, there’s still value in them wearing the covering over their mouth even if their nose is exposed (especially for talkative toddlers). It’s the training wheels.
#2: Avoid masks with chewables on them
I was overjoyed when I found a set of youth masks with the plastic adjuster beads on the strings…until I tried them out on my daughter and within minutes her mask was off and she was chewing on the bead. That set of masks never stays on her face for more than a couple of minutes. As helpful as those little beads may seem, if your child still chews on things, avoid these types of masks and try other methods for making them fit (see below).
Despite your best efforts to make masks unappetizing, your child may still take the mask off and just chew on the strings. My daughter has gone through many phases of doing this, and I don’t push the mask during these times, opting to keep our time out short and wait a week before going at it again.
#3: Try for a better fit
I’ve developed a small handful of ways to make a kids’ mask fit my small-headed toddler a bit better; some of these may work for you, but you’ll need to experiment to find the best methods for your kid’s head.
The string twist method
This one is what you most commonly see people do with their kids in public. You twist the string loop over once and it creates a tighter fit. Pay attention to which string you’re laying over the other; for toddler heads, placing the top string under the bottom string might create a bigger gap at the top. Twisting the bottom string under the top string may yield a better fit, but play with it to find the best combination for your child.
The upside down mask method
For cloth masks that are the curvy trapezoid shape where the nose piece comes up higher than the rest of the mask (compared to the straight rectangle of a surgical mask), the nose section can gape to a massive degree. I’ve found that flipping the mask upside down creates a better barrier against my daughter’s face. This often results in her nose being a bit uncovered, but I’ll still take that over no mask at all. Just be gentle when placing the mask and avoid it cutting into their eyes.
The adult surgical mask with hair tie method
This one came about one day when I’d left all my daughter’s masks at home. I used one of my surgical masks and wrapped the strings all the way to the back of her head, securing them with a hair tie. I was genuinely surprised at how long this one stayed on her face! Plus, because it wrapped all the way to the back of her head, the fit was tighter and the mask was covering both her nose and mouth.
A word of caution with this method: if they try to rip the mask completely off, they may snap the string off the surgical mask, so carry extras with you.
#4: Keep them distracted in public
The greatest success I’ve had with my daughter keeping her mask on came from when she was very engaged and distracted. Normally, I try to keep her contained in the stroller during errands so she isn’t touching everything she can get her hands on, and invading others’ six foot bubbles. The downside to this is that she either takes off the mask to absentmindedly chew on the strings, or she notices that it’s on her face because she isn’t occupied with anything else.
When I let her walk around in the store, she’s much more interested in her surroundings and doesn’t even notice the mask on her face! So, for as many errands as I can manage, I’ll have her walk alongside me, holding her hand if I need to, pushing the stroller as backup if I need her contained at any point.
#5: Time your outings
My daughter is much more likely to keep her mask on when she’s in a good mood. On the other hand, if she’s hangry, she rips it off and won’t have anything to do with it. If you can, try to time outings when you’re nowhere close to a mealtime, nap, or bedtime.
#6: Copy, copy, copy
Tell your child about how you wear your own mask when you go in public, and try to get them to copy you! Sometimes, that’s all it takes—the desire to do as mommy and daddy do. So, wear your own mask faithfully and properly every time you go in public, and narrate to your child, “Time to go into the store! Let’s put on our masks; we wear our masks the whole time we’re in the store.”
Also, keep your eyes open for other toddlers successfully wearing masks, and when you find them (it’s rare), don’t be afraid to open up a conversation with their parent. You can ask them how they get their own child to keep the mask on, and learn from them. Best of all, ask if your children can say hello to each other; your toddler seeing another child their own age wearing a mask can be a powerful help!
#7: Have your child’s favorite person persuade them
Sometimes, what we tell our children as parents goes in one ear an out the other. If there’s someone else in your child’s life who can get them to do things better than you can, employ that person to help teach your toddler to wear a face mask!
#8: Keep several masks with you
Make sure you’re paying attention regularly throughout your outings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to retrace my steps and find the mask my daughter threw on the floor. I don’t want to put that back on her face, so I make sure to keep a few extras in my diaper bag.
“May the odds be ever in your favor”
That’s all I’ve learned so far! I hope some of these tips can be helpful for you if you’re trying to teach your toddler to wear a face mask.
I pray all our efforts become pointless soon anyway as we reemerge into a healthier, mask-free world.
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