Help for families teaching kids to wear masks

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Action News coverage of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak

MT. LAUREL, N.J. (WPVI) -- Most schools will require students coming back to class to wear masks.

And in Philadelphia, that's from pre-school and up.

Some parents wonder how they'll get their kids to do that.

So Action News got advice from experts who've been training their clients - many with special needs - to do it.

Wearing a face covering is an adjustment for anyone.

But getting children to tolerate masks can take some time.

Bancroft NeuroRehab has been working with its patients - including those with special needs - on this for months, and shared their process.

Most kids have probably seen others in masks, but behavioral therapist Tracy Kettering, Ph.D., says they may not be ready to wear on themselves.

So begin gradually, talking about masks in language they can understand, and why it's important to wear one.

"Showing them that you're wearing it, maybe putting it on a doll, maybe putting it on, letting them touch it or interact with it," says Kettering.

Let kids choose a mask or face covering they like - and let them try it on, even for a few seconds.

Then gradually increase the time, with the help of distractions.

"Give them toys, give them things they like to do, interact with them, play with them, and they won't notice the mask as much," she notes.

Having a reward or treat kids can earn also helps.

Parents often use the same tactic to get kids used to eyeglasses.

At Bancroft, they set time goals, and track progress.

As Kettering's phone alarm rings, she tells her son, "Hey, all right."

"Writing down how far you got is really important, right, so that you know where to start next time, how long that they can tolerate it," she notes.

"Even if a child is not anticipated to go back to school until September at the earliest, you should start working on it now," Kettering advises.

She says every child will adjust to face coverings at different pace, and handle various situations differently, such as if they're tired or tend to suck their thumbs often.

So, be patient.