How to help kids embrace mask-wearing

Syazwani Hj Rosli

Many of us, young and old, have gone through a sudden change in the last few months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As we adjusted to the new normal, one of the things we needed to get used to is wearing a face mask every time we leave the house.

While it is relatively easy for an adult to adjust to wearing a face mask, it might be a challenge for the young ones. Wearing a mask might not be a substitute for social distancing, however, it is recommended for children above the age of two to wear a face mask in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

After spending many months cooped up, studying and staying at home, not being able to go out and have fun, wearing a mask is probably the last thing a child would want to do.

Face masks for children provide a better fit compared to the adult-sized ones or medical masks. They allow the right amount of coverage for tiny faces and comfort for all-day wear in and out of school. Despite the better fit, some might still feel hesitant and even irritable when asked to wear them, especially when they still do not understand what it is for.

So how can we encourage children to wear face masks without them taking them off often?

FROM LEFT: A young student in her face mask; and Anaqi Naufal in good spirits. PHOTOS: SYAZWANI HJ ROSLI

Apart from explaining the need to wear one, ‘fun’ masks have become the perfect option for many parents as they offer amusing and appealing designs, adding a fun factor to help motivate them to wear a mask often and for longer hours.

When Brunei slowly reopened classroom learning in June, students were mandated to wear face masks throughout their school sessions as advised by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Ministry of Education (MoE), to contain the spread of the virus.

Following the announcement, there was a surge in demand for children’s face masks, making it the most sought after item, apart from hand sanitisers.

Due to the high demand, children’s face masks became hard to find. Local garment companies started producing face masks for adults and children, while other shops and online sellers started increasing their stock of face masks for kids in a variety of colours, patterns and designs.

Colourful and fun face masks became a trend among many parents purchasing them for their children.

So how do the local parents get their kids to wear a face mask?

Zaki Iskandar bin Haji Suffian, father of six-year-old Anaqi Naufal, said that he and his wife encouraged their son to practise wearing face masks at home a week prior to school re-opening to get used to it and increase the time spent wearing it each day. They also let him pick the face masks.

“It is important to educate our children. We would tell him that wearing a mask will keep other people safe so that he would understand the purpose of wearing it all the time in school. When we go out, we would let him see other kids wearing it. So, on the first day of school reopening, he willingly wore the mask, no questions asked,” he said.

Another parent, Siti Radiah binti Bahrom, said she stocked many printed washable face masks for her young daughter.

“I let her choose the colours and designs for her masks. We would wear masks together, even at home, starting with short periods while doing fun activities to get her distracted. The time gradually increased each day until she became more comfortable wearing one for longer.

“She is in Year 1 and does not fully understand why she is required to wear a mask at school, but one thing for sure is that she is always excited to pick a printed mask before heading to school,” she said.

Since the first phase of school re-opening, students have slowly adopted to wearing a face mask as part of their daily routine.

It is important to remember that wearing a face mask enhances – and should not replace – other preventive measures.