How do I teach my child to put on a mask?
With the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus, it is important that we take the necessary precautions to protect our children and loved ones. One way that we can do so is to have your child wear a mask when going out or when he/she is feeling unwell.
We understand that many parents may find it very difficult to put on a mask for their children. As sometimes, they may throw a tantrum, resist wearing one or try to remove it as they find it uncomfortable. This can be a very stressful time for the parent or caregiver, and also making the experience negative for the child.
In this article, our Senior Case Supervisor, Edith Kho, has shared tips on how you can get your child to put on a mask in a more positive way. Getting an older child to wear a mask can not only protect him or her from potentially infectious germs and thus falling sick, but also from the haze we sometimes experience here in Singapore.
Do note that for younger children below the age of three, mask-wearing is not recommended, as the use of a face mask can increase the resistance to breathing and cause hypoventilation. (Mount Elizabeth, 2020)
In the video below (filmed before the Circuit Breaker was enforced), you will see that one of our students, Jamie, was not very willing to wear a mask when instructed to. He displayed some non-compliant behaviours. As his therapists had worked on his communication skills previously, he was able to communicate his dislike by saying, ‘I don’t want’.
Getting your child to put on a mask for the first time:
Step 1: Finding a suitable mask
Before introducing your child to a mask, the first step is to find a suitable face mask that fits your child and one that is recommended and approved. To ensure the effectiveness and reduce transmission of droplets, make sure that:
• The top of the mask is moulded over the bridge of your child’s nose
• The bottom of the mask covers the chin.
• The mask is clean and dry.
Read more on choosing a suitable mask here: https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/healthplus/article/masks-children-effective-suitable#content
Step 2: Presentation of the mask
After finding a suitable mask for the child, the next step is to introduce the mask to the child. As we know, not all children may be receptive to wearing one. So here, our first goal is for the child to be ok and calm when the mask is presented to him. And if he is, we want to praise and reward him for that good behavior. In the video below, you will see that instead of putting on the mask on immediately, we are just presenting the mask and telling Jamie that he needs to wear it before going out. You will see that as soon as Jamie was calm, he was rewarded for the good behavior. Rewarding Jamie is important, as this shows him that he is doing the right thing.
Step 3: Holding up the mask closer to the face and using a timer to indicate the duration
Now that Jamie is calm, we can progressively move on to bringing the mask closer to this face. For parents/caregivers at home, you can do so by holding up the mask and putting it closer to your child’s face. At this point, a timer was used as a visual reminder for Jamie to know how long he must wear the mask for. It is not mandatory to use a timer. Every child is different; for some children, they may not need one.
Step 4: Wearing The Mask
Once Jamie is ok and calm to have the mask closer to this face, it is now time for him to wear it! We want to ensure that the experience is positive for Jamie, therefore it is important at the beginning he only wears it for a noticeably short duration.
Step 5: Wearing and increasing the duration that he keeps the mask on
As Jamie is able to tolerate putting on the mask, we now want to practice him keeping the mask on for a longer duration. For parents and caregivers at home, it is important that we increase the duration gradually to ensure our child is kept successful. At the same time, do reward and encourage them when they show you the right behaviour!
Step 6: Incorporate an activity for your child while he has his mask on
As Jamie is now comfortable with wearing the mask, we want to introduce an activity that he can engage in. Our goal here is for him to be engaged in an activity whilst keeping his mask on.
Step 7: Generalization- Applying What He Has Learned
With every new skill that the child has learned, it is important that he is able to apply and use it in different settings and across different people in his life. For example, at home, in school or when out in the community, with his family members and teachers.
1. What can I use if I do not have a timer on the ipad?
Any visual timer works! You can use a cooking timer/phone timer.
2. Do I have to use the timer all the time?
No. The timer is only used in the beginning to help the child know how long he must wear the mask for. Over time, the timer should be faded. One way to do this is to turn the visual timer face down, so that the child cannot see it. Another way is to mute the sound so that the child cannot hear it when it rings.
Article edited by Edith Kho
(Case Supervisor, AP Singapore)
Edith Kho holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Sydney, Australia. She started working with children at Autism Partnership Singapore in 2012. Her role includes working on a child’s behavior, communication, play, social and self-help skills in a one-on-one and group setting. She has also provided shadow-aide support for children transiting into mainstream schools.
Presently as a Senior Case Supervisor, Edith oversees The Mandarin Overseas Accelerate Program in Singapore. She works closely with the consultants to design individualized curriculum for the children and conducts parent training supervision. Edith also been active in presenting talks to the local community, in raising awareness for Autism.