I-TEAM: Make mask-wearing a part of life for kids before school starts, pediatrician says

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 5:20 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Parents, we know a lot of you are still struggling with the school decision: should I send my kids or keep them home?

Then there's the question of masks. We know they're important for adults, but should children wear them?

If you would have told me a year ago I'd be buying a face mask for my daughter to go along with her school supplies, I wouldn't have believed it. But here we are, talking about back to school in a pandemic.

The same pandemic that sent kids home in March, teachers parading through neighborhoods, and graduates getting diplomas via drive-through ceremonies. We called it the new normal, but it wasn't normal. As much as we all hoped things would be back to normal now, they're not.

So, as we head back to school, what's the most important thing parents can do to prepare their kids to go back?

"I think they have to make mask wearing a part of life," Dr. April Hartman, chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Medical College of Georgia at AU, said. "So, when you leave the house, you're leading by example because everybody's putting on their mask."

Not everyone leaves the house on a regular basis. Case in point, I'm working from home again. A lot of you are, too. So a field trip might be in order.

"If you haven't been taking them out, I would recommend going someplace where masks are required," Hartman said.

That way, kids get used to wearing one and to seeing others wearing one.

Hartmans says what might help them the most, though, is to explain why we wear one; not to scare them, but to make them care.

"Most kids really have soft hearts and they're willing to do it, they don't like to see other people hurt," Hartman said. "They're very compassionate, and so if they see us doing it and they understand why we do it, then they're usually willing to go along with it."

They might also be a lot more willing if you can make it fun. Hartman suggests letting kids pick out their own masks or to even let them make some. In the meantime, she says you need to check in with your child's pediatrician.

"And a lot of people are offering virtual visits, so if your kid gets sick and you're like, 'Oh, he has a cough. Should I send him to school? I don't know if?' You can just real quick go on your app and meet with your doctor and say, 'Hey, you know, that's great,'" Hartman said.

You can also check office hours before school or how they'll handle a possible case. Hartman says it's also important to remember that kids get sick.

“It happens. I don’t care what it is. If it’s not COVID, it’s strep. It’s flu. It’s whatever,” Hartman said. “Kids are going to get sick. It happens we tend to get sick six to eight times a year. That’s almost once a month that they’re going to be sick when they’re in school.

The difference is we know a lot about those other things. There's still so much to learn about coronavirus.

Back to masks, some worry they will cause their kids to touch their face more, which could be problematic. Hartman says that’s why social distancing has to be part of this. So when they touch their face, they’ve been kept apart from other kids.

It's also important masks fit properly. A lot of kids, especially the high schoolers but even some middle schoolers, are between mask sizes. Adult ones are too big and youth ones are too small.

Make sure you’re finding a solution for that -- be it a hook in the back or replacing the ear straps.

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