#childsafety | Expert advice on mask-wearing for kids in the UAE | Kids, Health

It’s been a strange old year, from distance learning and lockdown to social distancing and singing happy birthday twice while washing your hands… Our kids have had to adapt to a lot of new rules and regulations.

Perhaps one of the toughest things about our ‘new normal’ is that entire families are expected to wear face coverings for their safety – as well as the safety of others – for a large part of their day. And while adults may not enjoy the experience, we understand why it’s necessary. For children however, the experience of adjusting to masks has been more of a challenge.

Given that little ones from as young as two have to wear them all day in school and whenever they are out and about across the UAE, we thought we’d get some expert advice on the creative strategies parents can adopt to make the wearing of masks more sustainable (and as pleasant as possible) for their kiddos.

Lead by example

Parents are getting creative, tying masks behind teddy bear ears, introducing masked superheroes to their children, and trying to seamlessly blend indoor mask-wearing into the daily household routine.

Emma Beesley, a chartered business psychologist and a mother of five kids all under ten years old, broached the subject with her children by comparing the facemasks to sunscreen.

“I have had all the ‘what, why, how’ questions and have had to provide responses that make sense to the children and create the right outcome” she said.

“I have compared the mask to sunscreen, in that the sunscreen keeps us safe from the sun, and masks keep us and others safe from any bad germs.”

Beesley emphasised that being a role model helps children embrace the idea of wearing facemasks. “There is never a time when children are not watching your every move,” she said, adding: “if I wear my mask, they are more likely to follow my lead”.

Comfort is key

Children fiddle, it’s just what they do. They fiddle with their shoe buckles, they twiddle with their hair bands and they play around with buttons, so it’s only to be expected that they will find it hard to keep their hands off their masks. That said, the more comfortable the masks feel, the less likely they are to constantly be touching them.

“Encouraging children to wear the mask is the first step however, ensuring they keep the mask on their face is the real challenge. If the mask feels uncomfortable, children would be unlikely to keep it on. They would naturally frequently touch their face to make adjustments which could increase the risk of infection,” Beesley explains.

A number of creative mums have made head bands with clips on them to attach the strings of the masks rather than looping them behind the child’s ears, some small companies have created lanyards so the masks don’t get lost, and there are plenty of masks on the market that are soft, breathable and less obstructive.

Get creative

An animated series has been introduced by UAE company ViroMasks to help encourage children to adopt healthy mask practices.

Commenting on the innovative campaign designed to encourage children to wear the masks, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Usman Khalid, said: “Since the start of COVID-19, life has changed dramatically for citizens across the globe, so we thought it was important to create superhero role models to help get our children accustomed to this new way of life.”

The ViroMasks animated series introduces the idea of a couple of mask-wearing superheroes – Kara, the young female heroine who quickly becomes the Germinator after putting on her virus-busting mask; and victorious Victor, who becomes the Defender when he uses his mask to protect himself and others from virus attack.

While wearing the ViroMask product provides all-round protection to the wearer, Khalid is quick to point out that children should wear masks only if they are capable of removing them without assistance, to ensure there is no risk of suffocation.

Make it a habit

It is widely accepted by experts that the best way to get your child used to masks is to practice using lots of fun ways to engage and retain their interest.

Educational psychologist, Dr Diksha Laungani, said: “Be mindful of your child’s age when you attempt different ways to encourage your children to wear masks. What works for your younger child, may not work for your older one, or vice-versa.”

Laungani emphasised the importance of engaging in open and honest discussions with your child saying: “you can ask them what they know about it: why do we have to wear them, how to do so and more. There could be a fair bit of imagination or misinformation at hand, so give them the facts about masks – as a parent, your child must trust you as an impartial source of information about everything COVID-19 related”.

Hand over control

The psychology of motivation shows us that for children to be independently motivated to wear masks, they need to feel in control and involved with the process and experience.

Laungani recommends giving your child choices wherever possible.

“Give them the freedom to choose the colour, for instance. Speak to them about their favourite family member or characters wearing masks. This will normalise the process and enhance their sense of relatedness with wearing masks,” she suggested.

“You could even entrust them with a sense of social responsibility by explaining that wearing a mask would is helping the community… a masked superhero and tell them that is a very important job.”

While it is important to remind kids not to play or tamper with their own face masks, you could use role play to increase the familiarity and positive association with wearing masks. Design an activity where you and your child create miniature masks for your child’s toys at home, for example make a mini mask for their favourite doll or most loved teddy bear.

As with any self-care tasks, encourage your child to practice putting their mask on and taking it off safely.

Using a mirror or a teddy bear to demonstrate how to do this is a great way for them to visualise what they need to replicate. Or, use it as an opportunity to get out your child’s favourite superhero costume so that they can practice wearing a mask.

It’s important to instil a sense of empowerment, positive association and responsibility in your child so that they feel much more motivated to wear their mask.

Best mask buys

Get them a mask they will be happy to wear. Here are some of our favourites

Dubai Fashion Masks

All the kid’s masks come with a fully adjustable elastic to ensure a perfect fit, plus with cute fabric like polka dots, rugby balls and pink flamingos, they really make a fashion statement too.
Dhs22.50. www.dubaifashionmasks.com.

Happy Confetti

With super soft straps that go behind the kid’s ears, the little ones will find these fabric masks very comfortable. They also come in a range of cute fabrics and have a pocket to add a filter.
Dhs 40 each or Dhs110 for three. www. facebook.com/happy.confetti.dubai.

Marks & Spencer

Easy to wear and adjustable to fit all sizes of little head.
5 masks for Dhs59. www.marksandspencer.com.

Neon Starfish

These masks come in a range of pretty fabrics for boys and girls and you can even buy a mask to match the gorgeous dresses and kaftans available at Neon Starfish too.
From Dhs 25 each. www.neonstarfish.com.

One Good Thing

Buy a mask and do something good (as the name suggests) at the same time. The school masks are Dhs125 for a pack of three and each purchase counts towards planting a tree. Alternatively, the standard school masks are Dhs95 for a pack of four and are made from fabric cut offs.
From Dhs95 for a pack of four. www.one-goodthing.com.

Viro Mask

These environmentally sustainable face masks are re-useable and use special technology to achieve a 99.9% reduction of enveloped viruses. The masks come in two sizes; four to seven and eight to 12.
Dhs 89. www.viromasks.com.

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