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How to Normalize Face Masks for Kids

Adding face masks to daily life might be confusing and scary to some children. Here’s how to get kids involved in the public health effort and talk to them about best practices.

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Most children associate masks only with the fun of Halloween. Now, with Governor Polis urging Coloradans to create a “strong mask culture,” folks are strapping on crafted cloths and bandanas before leaving home.

Kids already anxious about the public health crisis might experience more stress seeing masks all around them. That’s why the Governor’s Innovation Response Team created a mask designing challenge for school age children.

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Colorado’s Face Mask Design Challenge

“The purpose of this creative effort is to create a new normal with kids and communicate the value of wearing face masks for public health reasons,” said Margaret Hunt, Colorado Creative Industries director. “This design challenge will provide a fun and engaging means for kids to express their creativity, for parents to engage with their children during this perplexing time, and to discuss the importance of safety and social distancing.”

Colorado kids can support and influence a positive mask culture by drawing images or patterns they’d like to see on a mask—maybe a superhero logo, cute animal, or inspiring message.

The Innovation Response Team suggests parents use the brainstorming time to talk to kids about things that make them hopeful, strong, and happy. Once kids have got a vision for their design, use the challenge’s downloadable mask template and submission form to share their idea. The Colorado Creative Industries Facebook page will feature some of the designs and a select few will be printed on real masks produced by Colorado companies.

Making Your Own Masks

Families can also make their design dream a reality at home by crafting their own masks. Raid the closet for an old shirt, or the craft bin for remnants of cotton fabric, and grab a vacuum filter to add an extra layer.

Colorado Teacher of the Year Hilary Wimmer and her kids gathered materials from a friend who owned a quilt shop. They’re producing two types of masks: one with filters to share with medical workers and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and a simpler one that anyone can use.

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When talking with your kids about wearing masks, make sure they understand the intention behind the practice. Non-medical grade masks are more effective in protecting people around the mask-wearers, not the other way around. Laura-Anne Cleveland, associate chief nursing officer at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, tells her young ones they’re wearing masks to make sure they don’t spread germs to other kids, parents, grandmas, and grandpas. Using the “germ” and familial language might help them see more clearly the importance of wearing the mask.

Make your child’s introduction to masks interactive. Let them ask questions, have them touch and even smell materials, and give them a say in the design or making process.

What Ages Should Wear a Mask?

Cleveland reminds parents to be sure mask-wearing is developmentally appropriate. The CDC recommends that no one under the age of 2 wear a mask. There’s no need for an infant to wear a mask, because their likelihood of spreading fluids is lower, says Cleveland.

Younger kids, or kids with sensory sensitivities, also might end up fiddling with the masks more—taking them off and putting them on, touching them—and be constantly touching their faces, defeating the purpose.

“If it is a battle, don’t have that kid wear that mask,” says Cleveland. “But you do need to try and teach them to cough into their arms and to have good handwashing hygiene.”

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Lastly, it’s important to make sure kids aren’t scared to go outside.

“All of this is really scary for kids, their entire world is upside down,” says Cleveland. “It’s important to show ourselves grace and our kids grace. They’re going to be handling this in different ways.”

Join the Mask Movement

» Visit the CDC website for more information on wearing cloth face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

» Check out Colorado Mask Project for DIY patterns and tips on how to share your creations with others.

» Remember to follow CDC standards for handmade or home-found masks. They should:

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*Suggestion by Governor Polis

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