Kids and Masks: Notes From a Pediatrician

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By News Team on August 19, 2020

Concerned or confused about when and where your child should wear a mask—and about how to get them to comply?

Our chair of Pediatrics can help. Kimberly Dunsmore, M.D., spoke with Karen McNew about the do's and don'ts of kids and masks.

Their Q&A follows. Watch the video above for her demonstrations.

Q: Should children wear masks?
A: We all should be wearing masks. It is one of the really good ways that we can protect ourselves and others and our children need to be wearing them, if it’s possible. As we all know there are some instances where it would be harder for a child to wear a mask and that’s if they’re under the age of two, or if they have special medical conditions that they should talk over with their pediatrician about to determine whether it’s safe or not for that child to wear a mask.

Masks are very safe and very breathable. I’ve had a several people calling to ask if it is safe for children to wear the masks. They’ve heard that they get expired carbon dioxide in them, which can get caught and be a problem. 

That does not happen with masks. Not with the cloth type, not with the surgical type. 

They’re not going to have low oxygen or high carbon dioxide from wearing a mask.

Q: How can we help kids get used to wearing masks?
A: 
A mask can be fun, or it can be scary.  And so, what we need to do is help them play with a mask in many ways and kind of prepare them for wearing it for extended periods of time.

So usually I suggest having it on for a short period of time while doing a fun activity with your child. Then I’ll make it go for a longer and longer time until you get up to about 30 minutes at a time, and where they can get comfortable with the feel of it on their face.

For younger children, practicing with a loved stuffed animal like a teddy bear or a doll is a perfect way to start that conversation about wearing the mask.  

Also, make sure that you’re wearing a mask and being a good role model for your child.

Q: How can kids feel empowered when wearing masks?
A: Make it fun and give them some sort of reward for their participation. Make cotton ones fun in color, make them fun with polka dots. But if you’re wearing a surgical mask, that can’t be decorated. That will cause you to lose integrity of the protection from the mask.

Q: Can kids share or trade masks? 
A: You have to talk with your child about the importance of that mask being theirs and theirs alone, that it is like a hygiene matter. The way that we tell them not to share hats, not to share combs, not to share toothbrushes, your mask is the same way.

Q: How should kids store their masks at lunchtime?
A:
It depends on how lunchtime is going to be at different schools. Some are not going to have cafeterias, but people will be eating at their desks. So you can imagine taking the mask off and placing it in the corner of the desk with the outside facing up, so that the outside part does not touch their desk. 
 
If they’re going to be in a communal situation, then I suggest getting little paper bags. You can decorate the outside of them and have them place the mask inside the paper bag. That will keep it protected from their hands or others' hands touching it.

Q: Should they continue to wear the mask when they get off the bus to walk home?
If they’re walking in groups from the bus stop, then yes, probably so until they get into a protective site, either their car or their home.

Q: Should homes have a designated “used” mask area?
A: 
At my house, as we walk in the door, there’s a little table that used to have the keys and everything on it. We have a little setup for our masks and so we’ve put them there. We can put them in the paper bag or we can have them them out on the table with the outside facing up. So that as you leave the door, it’s always a constant reminder: There’s my mask, there’s your mask; let’s put them on. 
 
Q: How often should we wash masks?
Surgical masks cannot be washed. They’re disposable and should be thrown away at the end of every use.

Cotton masks, especially for children, should probably be washed daily after they’re used. It's a good idea to have enough so you can rotate them. You can choose a fun color that represents each of the days of the week, or a design.

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As always, and like never before, we're here to see you safely through all your health care needs. Visit CarilionClinic.org/safe to learn how. For up-to-date information about our response to COVID-19, visit CarilionClinic.org/coronavirus.