It All Depends, Says The WHO
Covering our nose and mouth with a mask to stop droplets escaping and also to stop us breathing them in is a simple protective measure to take. But what about our children? Should babies wear masks?
Babies and children under the age of 5 are not required to wear a mask. Children over 12 years should wear a mask when applicable. Those aged 6-11 should use a mask if:
- There is widespread transmission in the area they live
- They know how to safely and appropriately use a mask
- They have access to masks that are cleaned and maintained when at school or childcare
- They have been instructed on how to put on, take off and safely wear a mask
- They are adequately supervised
- The potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development should be considered
- When they are with other people who are considered high risk, such as the elderly relatives and those with other underlying health conditions
There are many things to consider and of course there are some extenuating circumstances, such as if a child has special needs. The most important thing to keep in mind is that masks are the only thing we have at the moment to help stop the spread of Covid-19. As adults we should be wearing them whenever we are called to. We need to do what we can to protect our children, and just like on the aeroplane where we’re told to put on our own oxygen masks before helping others, that starts with protecting ourselves
The Big Mask Debate
Earlier this week the USA finally made mask-wearing in public mandatory, although yet again the president seems to think he is above the law by refusing to wear a mask during a visit to the Ford factory. Unfortunately, he didn’t get blasted by Guns & Roses “Live & Let Die” at top volume like he did last week when he visited a mask manufacturing plant in Arizona.
Governments have been umming and ahhing about whether they should enforce mask wearing when really we should have all been using them from the start. Taiwan made mask-wearing mandatory very near the start of the pandemic and, until now, they have only suffered 7 Corona-related deaths. Contrast that with a death toll of over 95,000 so far in the US and over 35,000 in the UK and I think we can safely say that the simple act of wearing a mask is well worth trying in a bid to protect our communities.
We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
If you’re wondering “Should I wear a mask for Coronavirus?”, then the answer is a resounding “YES!”. This gesture alone is not going to end the pandemic, but it is definitely going to help slow the spread and keep more of us safe.
Now, what advice should we follow when it comes to our children?
Should Babies Wear Masks?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies under the age of two should not wear a mask. There is a much greater risk of suffocation in young babies. They can’t tell you if they are having trouble breathing and they are incapable of removing a mask from their own faces.
So, no, babies should not wear a mask.
That means that we all need to be extra vigilant in protecting the little ones. If at all possible you should avoid taking your baby to anywhere crowded. Try to keep them at least 2 metres away from people that aren’t in your household. Anyone that comes near should be wearing their own mask.
When you go out in public you can lay a cotton sheet or blanket over the pram to protect them from any droplets that might be in the air. They still have plenty of room under the sheet to breathe normally. Don’t leave them covered up if you’re not able to supervise though, that’s another suffocation risk.
If they are in a stroller and you don’t have a cover to put over them then be sure to pull the buggy’s awning down. They’ll still get a small amount of protection from that, it’s better than nothing. Remember, we’re using masks mainly to protect others. They offer some protection for us but they are really so we don’t pass anything on unknowingly.
Another idea is to wear your baby in a carrier if they are small enough. Pop them in so they are facing you and as close to your body as possible. You then have more control of where you position them when you are around other people.
Because of all the possible risks a mask can pose to a baby, they shouldn’t wear one. It’s up to us to be their protection.
Should Toddlers Wear Masks?
From the age of two up it’s advisable for kids to wear masks when out in public. That means when they are liable to come into contact with other people. If they are playing outside, away from people, then a mask isn’t necessary.
Here are the CDC’s recommendations for your child’s mask:
- Made from a comfortable, non-porous material
- Multiple layers of fabric
- Fits snugly from the top of the nose to the chin and along the cheekbones
- Secured with ear loops or ties (kids tend to fiddle less with earloop fastenings)
- Allows for breathing without restriction
- Can be washed and dried without damage or shape loss.
Now, just because they should wear a mask doesn’t mean that they are going to. It’s difficult to explain things like a pandemic and the law to a two-year-old. And it’s notoriously difficult to get them to keep anything on their heads.
Sunhats? Forget about it.
Sunglasses? You must be kidding.
So what can we do to encourage them?
How To Get Your Kid To Wear A Mask?
Our children model our behaviour and pick up on our emotions so it’s very important that you wear your mask consistently and that you don’t show any anxiety about it. If your child associates the mask with feelings of fear, anxiety or discomfort they are going to reject it even more.
Depending on your child’s age you might be able to explain to them, in a non-frightening way of course, about what’s going on and why we need the masks. You could tell them a bit about germs. That we all have our own specific germs and at the moment it’s important that we keep them to ourselves.
Children become anxious when things feel out of control, just like the rest of us I suppose, so you could give them back some control by helping them to make their own mask. Let them raid dad’s wardrobe and pick one of his old t-shirts to use. (My husband will kill me when he reads this ?)
The CDC gives simple instructions here:
Try to get them wearing it at home. Just for a few seconds at first, gradually increasing the time as they get more used to it. You can play cowboys, or cops and robbers with them and hopefully they’ll soon be happy to pop the mask on to play.
Another sneaky tactic that might help is to wait until they are otherwise occupied but still in earshot. In a loud stage whisper talk to your partner about how great they are at wearing the mask and how much fun you’ve had with them. You never know, it’s worth a shot.
The rules are that when you go out in public and are around other people, babies under two shouldn’t wear a mask but everybody else should.
The best thing for the little ones is to avoid taking them anywhere where it’s difficult to keep a good social distance from others. If you must take them out then follow the guidelines to protect them as much as you can.
Don’t get too hung up on the idea that your kid can only use a proper mask. If they flat out refuse the mask but are willing to use a scarf or bandanna, or even just pull their sweater up over their nose and mouth then just go with it. Any protection is better than none at all.
Don’t forget the importance of handwashing. Hands should be washed thoroughly before and after touching the mask and regularly throughout the day, especially if they have been out of the house and touching public surfaces such as bannisters, picnic tables etc.
These are unprecedented times we are living in and even if our children don’t understand what’s going on they are constantly picking up on our emotional cues. It’s important to let them know that these measures we are taking are for the good of the world and that they will keep us safe. We will get through this and everything will be OK.
If you have any questions or concerns that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Thanks for reading