About face masks and COVID-19
Face masks act as a physical barrier to the spread of COVID-19 when you breathe, talk, cough or sneeze.
When face masks are recommended or required by health authorities, they’re one of the ways you can protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and prevent its spread in your community. Some health authorities require children and teenagers to wear face masks. This might include when children are out of their homes or at school.
Our tips can help your child get used to wearing a face mask.
Role-modelling is one of the most powerful ways to influence your child’s attitude to face masks. This starts with wearing a face mask correctly and safely yourself. It’s also important to be positive and enthusiastic when you talk with your child about wearing face masks.
1. Check face mask recommendations and requirements in your local area
Check your state or territory COVID-19 website for advice about whether face masks are required or recommended for children when they’re away from home or at school.
2. Check how the school is helping children use face masks
If your child needs to wear a face mask at school, check how your child’s school plans to help children do this. Most schools send out regular communications to keep parents informed. It’s also OK to contact the school if you’re not sure what’s happening.
Here are things to check:
- Does your child need to wear a particular type of mask?
- When and where does your child need to wear a face mask – for example, inside, outside or both?
- How will the school help children use face masks safely? For example, will teachers remind children to put their masks on properly?
- Will the school supply masks, or does your child need to bring their own?
Face masks can be expensive, and your child will probably use a lot of them each week at school, even if they’re using cloth masks. If this is an issue for your family, it’s best to talk to the school principal. They should be able to help you.
3. Explain the rules about face masks at school
Your child needs to know what to do about wearing a face mask at school:
- Explain what’s happening with face masks at school and why. For example, ‘When you go back to school next week, you’ll need to wear a face mask. This is one way to keep everyone safe from COVID-19’.
- Be clear about when and where your child needs to wear a face mask. For example, ‘You need to wear your mask while you’re in the classroom, but you can take it off to eat and drink at lunch’.
- Listen to your child’s concerns and answer any questions. If you don’t know all the answers, find out and get back to your child or check some credible sources together. For example, ‘Yes, your friends have to wear face masks too’.
- Be patient. You might need to give your child time to get used to the idea of face masks at school and remind them about the rules more than once.
4. Teach your child how to put on, wear and take off a face mask
Putting on a face mask
- Wash your hands before touching your mask.
- Put the mask on by putting the loops around your ears.
- Check that the mask completely covers your nose, mouth and chin, with no gaps on the sides.
- Pinch the nose piece around your nose (if the mask has a nose piece).
Wearing a mask
- Once your mask is on, try not to touch it, wear it under your chin, or put it in your mouth.
- Don’t share your mask with your friends.
Taking off a face mask
- Wash your hands before touching your mask.
- Use the loops to take off your mask. Don’t touch the front.
- Put the dirty mask in a bin (if it’s a disposable mask) or in a container in your bag (if it’s a cloth mask).
- Wash your hands again.
5. Help your child get used to wearing a face mask
These ideas can help your child get used to wearing a face mask and feel comfortable with the idea:
- Encourage your child to practise wearing a face mask for short periods at home first. You can work up to longer periods.
- Give your child some choice in their face masks if you can. For example, let your child choose colours, patterns or materials.
- Let your child decorate their masks. They could put stickers on them or draw their favourite character.
- Consider features like tie-on masks, mask extenders or ear savers to make masks more comfortable for your child. These might be particularly useful for children with disability.
- If your child is younger, make a game out of it. For example, put your mask on at the same time as your child and make up silly songs or rhymes about wearing them, or pretend you’re masked superheroes.
- Help your child with breathing exercises or muscle relaxation activities if they feel a bit anxious when they’re wearing their mask.
It’s important to tune in to your child’s feelings about face masks and let them know that their feelings are OK. It might reassure your child if you share your own experience. For example, ‘I felt weird when I started wearing a face mask too, but I got used to it. I remind myself that it protects me from the virus’.
6. Practise communicating while wearing a face mask
You might need to explain to your child that face masks hide some of our facial expressions and muffle our voices, so they can affect the way we communicate.
Here are some strategies to help with communicating while wearing face masks. You and your child could practise them together:
- Face the person you’re speaking to and use plenty of eye contact.
- Speak loudly, slowly and clearly so others can hear you through your mask.
- Use exaggerated expressions so that other people can see your emotions in your eyes.
- Use body language and gestures like nodding to show you’re listening.
- Tell people what you’re feeling, because people will find it harder to guess from your body language.
7. Seek help if your child is very anxious about wearing a face mask
If your child is feeling very anxious or concerned about wearing a face mask, get help. You can start by talking with your child’s teacher. It’s important for the teacher to know how your child is feeling. They might also have some strategies that can help your child or put you in touch with the school counsellor or other support staff.
If you’re very concerned about your child’s anxiety or their anxiety persists, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP.
Face masks for children with disability, autism and other additional needs
If your child has a disability, ask your GP or another health professional about whether your child is required to wear a mask. Your child might be able to get an exemption.
If your child does need to wear a mask, they might need extra support to adapt to this experience:
- Use visual aids or social stories to explain face masks to your child.
- Think about how you can adapt masks to make them more comfortable.
- Give your child plenty of practice at home.
- Ask your child’s health professionals for help.
- Ask your child’s school about any extra support they can give you and your child.