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best masks for school kids

School will be different in many ways this fall, no matter where you live or what your local district's plans are. But regardless of the uncertainty that still surrounds schedules, social distancing and hybrid learning, one thing, at least, is clear: If your child's school or preschool opens its doors, everyone who steps through them will need to wear a mask, from teachers to staff to students.

So which masks are safest and most effective for kids—and how do you convince kids to wear them? We asked doctors and epidemiologists the biggest questions parents have about masks at school.


What kind of face mask is best for children to wear at school? 

There's a surprising number of face mask options out there, but parents want to know which type of face mask is most effective and safe for kids in a school setting—cloth masks? Surgical masks? Face shields? Neck gaiters? Or just any kind of mask they'd actually tolerate wearing?

As it turns out, every expert we asked was in agreement on this point. "A cloth mask is the best option for most children," says Sara B. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Melissa Hawkins, an epidemiologist, mom of four and Director of the Public Health Scholars Program in the Department of Health Studies at American University, agrees: "For a school setting, I recommend cotton masks with elastic ties because they are highly effective, comfortable and washable."

In addition to being reusable and washable, cloth face masks with ties are easier to adjust to fit than one-size-fits-all surgical masks. Cloth face masks are also less irritating to the skin than medical-style masks made of more fibrous woven material, and are less likely to slip down or lose elasticity than a neck gaiter. Neck gaiters leave the actual act of covering the mouth and nose up to the responsibility of the wearer, which makes them less than ideal for kids.

"A facial covering does not need to be a surgical mask for adults or children, but it should not be an N-95 respirator mask, which are essential for those actively treating Covid patients and are in critically short supply right now," notes Hawkins. Dr. Daniel Berliner, a physician for virtual health platform PlushCare, agrees: "While more sophisticated masks (like N-95 masks) do the best job, any face covering that is comfortable and that will be worn is much better than no mask."

Bottom line: "The most effective mask would be the one the child finds comfortable," as Dr. Eudene Harry, Medical Director for Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center, puts it. And for most kids, the most comfortable mask is a child-sized cloth face covering with elastic ties.

Reminder: Children under the age of 2 should not wear face masks, as recommended by the CDC and health care providers.

Are clear plastic face shields effective and safe for kids to wear?

Cloth masks are actually preferable to plastic face shields (worn on their own) for the purposes of preventing viral spread. "A face shield protects the wearer but is not as good at keeping infectious droplets in, since the sides and bottom are open," Johnson says.

According to Harry, "the CDC doesn't recommend face shields instead of face masks because they aren't known to offer similar protection from aerosolized particles." If, however, your child is unable to wear a face mask and you opt to have them wear a shield, "be sure that it goes around the side of the face and below the chin," she advises.

Hawkins neatly breaks down the pros and cons of plastic face shields for kids this way: "Face shields can be more comfortable than masks, especially if your child wears glasses, which easily fog with masks. Shields cover the entire face and make it harder for a child to touch nose, mouth, and eyes, and they are easy to clean and disinfect after each use. The drawbacks: First, they provide good protection to the child wearing it, but less so for other people because the face shield is away from the face and thus respiratory droplets can easily escape and spread. Second, because they are less effective, the CDC currently recommends masks be worn along with a face shield."

Plastic face shields may be hard to wear for younger children, Johnson notes, although a shield can be worn over a cloth face mask. If children are "developmentally ready" to wear a face shield over a mask, she says, "that's an option, but for most children, a cloth mask is fine."

What can parents or caregivers do to help kids feel comfortable wearing a mask?

Experts agree that children are incredibly adaptable—in fact, as Dr. Harry observes, "children sometimes adapt more readily than adults to change." While wearing a mask may feel uncomfortable or strange at first, the good news is that kids will adjust, especially when they see that all their friends and teachers at school are in the same boat.

In the meantime, here are some ways parents can ease kids into wearing masks at school.

Practice: "We've found that children get better at wearing masks with practice, so practice over the summer with your children until they are used to wearing the mask," Johnson suggests. "That includes how to put it on with clean hands, how to remove it and how to wash or sanitize hands after."

Meet them where they are: "Children are children, so demonstrating on their favorite stuffed animals or allowing them to decorate their own mask can help to introduce it in a way that they can understand," suggests Harry.

Let them choose: "You can involve your child in picking out the mask, or consider personalizing it with permanent markers. Kids are more likely to wear a mask if they like the design," Johnson says.

Make sure your child's mask actually fits them comfortably: "Because we don't want children to touch their faces to adjust the mask, it's important to try to find one that's the right size for your child," Johnson says. "A too-big mask is likely to slip and require a lot of adjustment."

Encourage their sense of responsibility for others: "Parents can say, 'Masks are for superheroes and helpers, and that's what we are when we wear our masks. When we wear a mask, we help keep the people around us safe and help keep our germs away from other people,'" Johnson suggests.

Put mask-wearing into a healthy context they understand: Most kids know that washing hands, using tissues (instead of sleeves) and sneezing and coughing into our elbows are all everyday actions we should take to help keep germs from spreading—even when we're not sick. Wearing a mask is in the same category: just one more way to keep ourselves and others healthy.

"Explain to your child that it is important to wear a mask to help protect other people and keep themselves safe," Harry suggests. "You may have discussed with your child the importance of handwashing to keep hands clean before eating, after using the bathroom, and so on. You can just reinforce that this is just another way to do that."

Make it memorable: Early education experts know that repetition and rhyme are effective in introducing new concepts to young children. Your family can adopt its own rhyme, reminder or affirmation to encourage kids to wear their masks—Dr. Hawkins suggested a few:

  • Be a friend, wear a mask.
  • Your first task is to wear your mask.
  • My mask protects you and your mask protects me. Masks help us keep each other healthy.
  • Heroes wear masks.
  • Caring is sharing, but not germs. Wear a mask.

Model mask-wearing yourself, and point out masks in your community: "Wear your mask whenever you're within 6 feet of people who don't live in your household," Johnson says. "Point out to your child people who are wearing masks and reinforce the idea that everyone is helping."

Teach them how to wear a mask properly: Show them that they should always wash hands before and after putting on their mask, and help them make sure their nose, mouth and chin are fully covered. "Remind them to always avoid touching the mask when it's on their face and to take it off from behind their ears and not from the face part," Hawkins notes.

Wash masks frequently—both for health + comfort: No one wants to wear a smelly, stained mask, no matter how important it is.

Are face masks safe for kids?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about mask-wearing, and even well-meaning people can be misled by confusing or contradictory claims. So if you're hearing from relatives or friends or neighbors that face masks are unsafe or unnecessary for children, be empathetic, while arming yourself with the facts.

Here's what experts want parents to know about the safety and efficacy of masks for children.

Masks are safe—they do not "smother" kids, inhibit their intake of oxygen, or cause excess intake of carbon dioxide. "Masks do not effectively serve as a barrier to transmission of gases like they do in stopping particulate matter," Berliner points out. "So while masks will greatly reduce movement of virus particles, oxygen and carbon dioxide gases will flow freely. In other words, kids wearing masks at school will be able to adequately breathe air in and out and not have significant changes in their normal, unmasked levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide."

Johnson agrees: "There are a lot of misconceptions about wearing a cloth face covering. There's generally no reason to worry about reduced airflow, or increased CO2 intake, or increased risk for infection related to a cloth face mask, they allow plenty of air exchange."

And one more time for those in the back (or for those with friends or relatives that really need convincing): "Wearing a face mask has not been shown to increase CO2 levels or decrease oxygen levels in individuals with normal lung function. Keep in mind that hospital personnel wear masks for many hours a day and are okay," Harry points out. "If a person has a lung disease and wears the more tightly woven N-95 mask, then there is a possibility of CO2 increasing. These individuals should speak with their physicians. Cloth masks allow for easy exchange of oxygen and CO2."

Masks are effective. "Mask wearing is especially important to reduce asymptomatic spread, a larger driver of the infection rates across the country," notes Hawkins. "We know that universal mask wearing will significantly reduce viral transmission rates in communities and nationally."

Masks are among the most affordable, easy-to-use weapons we have against the spread of coronavirus. "Physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and consistency in mask wearing are tried and true (no cost) prevention approaches that do work," says Hawkins.

Masks will be especially important for preventing viral spread in schools. "Some parents may believe that children do not contribute to the transmission of the coronavirus," Hawkins says, but "when schools open again in the fall, children will be together in groups and the usual respiratory illnesses will circulate as they always do. When children are coughing and sneezing more regularly due to other illnesses (or due to COVID-19), it is likely the virus will be spread easily and readily. This is certainly the case for all other respiratory viruses, including other strains of coronavirus. So, two good reasons to wear a mask—reduce the risk of coronavirus and the risk of the other pesky respiratory illnesses that are commonplace in school settings."

Masks are a sign of care for our communities. "Wearing masks is something new to many kids and parents," Johnson acknowledges. "Like any new skill we teach our children, it can be confusing and scary at first; our job is to help children realize how they're helping. Building empathy and care for others is something that will benefit our kids long after the pandemic.

If these expert assurances from a range of doctors and epidemiologists are not enough to change other people's thinking, remember this, mama: Your main responsibility is your children's health and your own well-being—both physical and mental. Control what you can control, and let go of the rest.

What if my child just really, really hates wearing a mask?

"Just as with any new health habit, wearing a mask will take practice before your child becomes accustomed to it," acknowledges epidemiologist Dr. Melissa Hawkins. But with love and patience, there are many ways parents can help even the most resistant kids adjust to the change. A few effective methods Dr. Hawkins suggests:

Use frequent and positive reinforcement. Praise kids for being helpful heroes by wearing masks, and praise others in their class and their community for doing the same.

Don't make it a big deal. Once all the kids in the class or school are practicing the behavior together, it will become routine for all, Hawkins points out, noting that summer programs with mandatory mask policies have already helped many kids adjust well to masks, because wearing a mask has now become the new social norm.

Help kids understand the why. Talk with children in age-appropriate terms about the importance of mask wearing and explain germs in simple terms, Hawkins suggests. For example, explain that germs can go from our body to someone else's body when we cough, sneeze or breathe too close to someone else. Masks protect our own noses and mouths from germs, but wearing a mask can also protect our friends because it keeps our germs closer to our own bodies.

Explain that masks are the rule right now. Just like wearing shoes to play outside, wearing a seatbelt in the car or wearing a coat when it's cold, there are certain rules we all follow that help us stay safe and healthy.

Model mask wearing to show that it's safe and practice wearing the mask at home. Have your child help you put on your mask. Offer to help your child put on their mask. Suggest your child put the mask on a stuffed animal or doll. Show them pictures of other children wearing masks. Show them pictures of super heroes wearing masks. Just like superheroes, they are helping us all stay healthy.

Validate their feelings + emotions about mask wearing and comfort them. Share when it's been frustrating or hot to wear the mask. Invite them to draw how they feel about it.

Offer some simple choices to help them feel more in control. For example, tell them they decide whether to put the mask on when we leave the house or in the car.

Make mask-wearing playful. Let them choose their own mask color and pattern. A lot of retailers are offering kid-friendly masks now. Let them get creative decorating their masks with stickers, ribbons and so on.

Be consistent in mask wearing to establish good habits and routine.

If your child is extra-resistant to wearing a mask, experts note that there are a number of perfectly understandable reasons why this might be the case. For example, make sure your child's mask fits and is comfortable, especially around the ears. Your child might benefit from "fresh air breaks" where they can remove their mask for a short period away from other children—you might consider discussing this possibility with your child's teacher.

Finally, don't underestimate the hugely important role you and your family play in helping your child adjust to wearing a face mask. As Dr. Berliner points out, making this change "requires guidance from authority figures, especially parents, that masks are safe, good for your health and really important and necessary. And the best way to impart this message to children is to lead by example."

While it may feel natural to make jokes about masks or roll our eyes good-naturedly while putting them on, these actions can be interpreted by young children in a different way than we intend, and we can inadvertently become what Berliner calls a "negative beacon" with regard to wearing masks. If we send the signal to our kids that masks are a pain and an annoyance but oh well, we gotta wear 'em anyway, then of course our kids will notice we're less than enthusiastic.

Each of us can play an important role in reducing the spread of the coronavirus in our communities. Helping our kids adjust to wearing face masks in public and in school is a challenge none of us could have foreseen. But we can do hard things.

You've got this.

<p> Siobhan Adcock is the Experts Editor at Motherly and the author of two novels about motherhood, <a href="https://www.siobhanadcock.com/" target="_blank">The Completionist</a> and <a href="https://www.siobhanadcock.com/the-barter" target="_blank">The Barter</a>. Her writing has also appeared in Romper, Bustle, Ms., McSweeney's, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Chicago Review of Books and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. </p>

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

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