Talking to children makes it easier to don masks

Donning a face mask when venturing outside your home is the new norm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says face coverings help slow the transmission of COVID-19 by people who unknowingly have the virus.

“When they breathe, speak, cough or sneeze, virus particles will be trapped in their mask, protecting other people from being infected,” said Dr. Jennifer Frank, chief medical officer at ThedaCare. “Respiratory droplets can spread the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The CDC recommends those over the age of 2 wear a mask when outside of the home.

“Cloth or handmade masks are recommended for everyone,” said Frank. “We don’t want to give people who wear cloth masks a false sense of security. Keep in mind, an estimated 25% of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms. That said, people wearing cloth face coverings play an important role in curbing cases.

“We encourage parents to be honest with their children, while keeping the conversations appropriate for their age group so they understand the importance. Let children know they are protecting their friends, neighbors and community members by wearing a mask.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations to help speak with children about masks. For children under 3, it’s best to answer their questions simply in language they understand. If they ask about why people are wearing cloth face coverings, explain that sometimes people wear them when they are sick, and when they are all better, they stop wearing them.

For children over 3, try focusing on germs. Explain that germs are special to your own body. Some germs and good and some are bad. The bad ones can make you sick.

Children should wear face coverings when they cannot stay 6 feet apart from others. This includes places like the grocery store, pharmacy or a doctor’s office.

Children do not typically need to wear coverings if they are at home, as long as there is not exposure to COVID-19. Masks are also unnecessary outside, as long as children can stay 6 feet apart from others.

“Staying home and physical distancing is still the best way to protect your family,” said Frank. “Especially for younger children who may not understand why they need to be 6 feet apart from others, or who cannot keep their mask on their face.”

For children with special health care needs, the AAP has the following recommendations:

• Children who are considered high-risk or severely immunocompromised are encouraged to wear an N95 mask for protection.

• Families of children at higher risk are encouraged to use a standard surgical mask if they are sick to prevent the spread of illness to others.

• Children with severe cognitive or respiratory impairments may have a hard time tolerating a cloth face covering. For these children, special precautions may be needed.

“Helping children feel comfortable now is good practice ahead of the school year,” said Frank. “Many districts are in the process of determining how to bring children back to school safely, and that may include some type of masking.”