Wearing masks is now a common sight and is likely to become even more so over the next few months. Government advice is to wear a face covering whilst indoors in public places. I can vouch for it that masks do feel a bit weird and you do feel self-conscious when you first start wearing them, but as one 12 year old recently said to me “You soon forget you are even wearing them”.
Whatever your age, wearing a mask can feel a bit frightening to start with, and it can take time to believe you can still breathe with it on. Except for a very few people with specific medical conditions, most people can breathe fine with a mask on, but you may need a moment to trust that. My 7-year-old felt quite panicky the first time he tried it and was adamant he couldn’t put it over his nose as well as his mouth. With a little reassurance and more importantly, I think, by wearing one myself and showing him, he was prepared to try it for a few seconds at a time and soon realised it was OK. He just needed to get over the initial strangeness of deliberately putting something over his face, when most of the
time we tell him never to do that!
So let's all be masked crusaders!
Please note, medical advice is that no child under 3 should wear one. Despite products that may be advertised for babies or toddlers, they are not safe. But for children older than that, masks are safe. Getting used to wearing them and seeing other people wearing them will be helpful, especially in preparation for return to school where masks may well be a more common sight.
Top 5 ways to start wearing masks
1) Take your time! Try wearing them around the house for a while first. Even older kids and teens may need to time to work out how to fit them and how to feel comfortable. Don’t make the first time you wear them 3 seconds before you have to walk into the hospital to visit grandma, or as you are about to walk into the shop for a shoe fitting.
2) Play - As with all new things that young children may be confused or wary of, start with play. Allow them to play with one and put it on dolls and teddies.
3) Model it – the best way to encourage children to do something is for them to see you do it first and realise it is OK. Be careful, especially with younger children or those of any age who dislike change, to be sure you warn them what you are about to do, take it on and off multiple times, let them take it off you when they want to and try not to surprise or frighten them with it.
4) Let them choose a colour or design if you can. Children (and let’s be honest, adults and teens too) are much more likely to wear something if they quite like the colour or style. My two chose Pokemon fabric masks and have been desperate to go into a shop ever since the masks arrived, just to try them out! My husband was much more keen to wear one when he discovered you could have ones with Transformers and Super Mario characters on, though I can’t imagine why…..
5) Watch programmes where people wear them e.g CBBC’s ‘Operation Ouch’ or this lovely episode of ‘Tweedy’s Lost and Found’, filmed quite early on in lockdown, where Tweedy the Clown explains masks and personal protective equipment in a very silly but reassuring way.
With best wishes to you and yours,
Dr Helen Care, Clinical Psychologist
A Confident Start
Promoting good mental health for children and young people