The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a curve ball to students this summer – from postponed camps and travel teams to less time having fun in the sun with friends. But children are learning a new lesson: The importance of wearing a face covering to keep family and friends safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says face coverings slow the spread of COVID-19 by people who unknowingly have the virus. New research published this summer in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimates anywhere from 30% to 45% of people with the coronavirus have no symptoms. In May, officials guessed about a quarter of Americans were asymptomatic.
“When kids and adults with COVID-19 breathe, speak, cough or sneeze, virus particles will be trapped in their mask, protecting other people from being infected,” explained Jennifer Frank, MD, Chief Medical Officer at ThedaCare, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner. “Respiratory droplets can spread the virus, so people wearing cloth face coverings play an important role in curbing cases.”
The CDC guidance on face coverings suggests everyone older than the age of two wear a cloth mask when outside the home. Making kids feel comfortable wearing a mask now will get them ahead of the school year, when they will likely be required to suit up with one in the classroom for everyone’s safety – students, teachers, parents and administrators.
Experts say getting kids to comply starts with parents and other authority figures in their life. Additional Be Safe Partners explain that when you are armed with the right information, it is as easy as 1-2-3.
- Speak honestly. Experts say children need to hear the facts but without the fear. Catalpa Health Psychiatrist, Eric Rueff, DO, said, “Explain the risk of illness, but do not try to scare children into wearing face coverings by giving worse case scenarios. Make them aware that when someone may have the illness and not know it, they could easily spread it.”
- Focus on germs. “Explain that germs are special to your own body. Some are good and some are bad,” said Peter Roloff, MD, and Pediatrician and Regional Medical Director of Primary Care at Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin. “Since we can’t always tell which are good or bad, a cloth face covering helps keep those germs away. Masks also help remind us not to touch our mouth and nose.”
- Empower children to be heroes. Children are often seen as potential “spreaders” of the coronavirus because most are believed to be asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms. “They can protect older relatives and teachers who may get the illness worse than kids,” Dr. Rueff noted. This can be reinforced by watching videos on the topic as a family for younger children and teenagers. “Most of us are visual learners so this is a good way to learn together as a family.” Dr. Roloff added, “Some children feel that they do not have control of many things but wearing a mask and caring for others is something that they can control and feel empowered about.”
Of course, emotional support helps to make this change easier too. Be Safe Partners Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin, Catalpa Health, and ThedaCare say as parents and guardians educate and empower, they should do so with empathy and kindness all while having fun to keep everyone to alleviate any anxiousness along the way.
- Show empathy by commiserating with how annoying and stuffy a mask can be.
- Encourage kindness by modeling how masks are worn to keep others safe, which can be an altruistic feeling for a child.
- Be happy by injecting humor to diffuse stressful conflicts over wearing the mask, rather than letting any frustration lead to anger.
Leading by example is most effective when expecting change from your children, so parents do as you say not as you do. And older siblings wearing their own mask can make a difference too. Children look up to older family members and mimic them.
Be Safe Wisconsin experts suggest a family gradually introduce mask wearing and work toward permanent change. Work in increments: 5 minutes one time, then 10 minutes another, then 30 minutes and so on. The child eventually will get through an entire activity wearing a face covering. Practicing at home will help when children are in public. Parents will have less to worry about when it comes to proper us.
“Thanking children for wearing a mask to protect others will positively reinforce mask use and make the children feel like they are doing their part,” Dr. Roloff said.
Catalpa Health was a contributor to this article, written and published by Be Safe Wisconsin.