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2020 is the year of the mask – and it’s a unique opportunity to teach empathy in a way that is visible and easy for kids to understand. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people 2 years of age and older wear a cloth face covering in public settings and when around people from another household, especially if it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

“Masks work only if the vast majority of people wear them,” pediatrician Sarah McNemar, Medical Director of Parkside Pediatrics’ Powdersville office, said. “If you have a patient who has COVID and doesn’t know they have it – which we think is quite a lot of the population who has it – every time they talk or cough or sneeze or sing, anything that’s going to come out of their mouth is going to transmit that to other people.”

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McNemar said it is important for parents to set a positive tone for mask wearing. Her office requires masks for parents and children 2 and older.

“We know that kids can get coronavirus,” she said. “They do in South Carolina. While it is true that most children have mild illness, they can definitely spread that to others. And there’s a small population of children who do get quite ill with a multisystem inflammatory disorder, which we know very little about at this point because coronavirus is new and the effects on children are also new.”

But having your child wear a mask goes beyond protecting their friends.

“A bigger concern for us is who are those kids around? Because if they are anything like my family, those kids are all up on their grandparents and aunts and uncles and other people who are at much higher risk than children of having severe complications,” McNemar said.

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Practically speaking, McNemar knows this takes some work and a good dose of patience.

“We have three kids and they are 4, 5 and 7,” she said. “They are very active and there’s a bunch of them. If you have a bad attitude about a mask, your child is going to have a bad attitude, too.” 

Parents can choose to model positivity and make wearing a mask an opportunity to help and serve others.

“It’s a great opportunity to show empathy, to teach your kids to care about others, even when it might be uncomfortable for them,” McNemar said. “For us, it’s saying we might feel great but it’s our job to protect our friends and our neighbors from this yucky virus that’s out there.”

McNemar offers these tips to make wearing a mask part of the new routine:

  • Kids want to be helpers. Frame it that way so they know they are helping others.
  • If little ones are afraid of the mask, get them used to it by practicing at home for a few minutes at a time.
  • Teach kids to wash their hands before putting on their mask.
  • Put the mask on (covering the mouth and nose) and take it off using the ear straps. Teach kids not to touch the mask once it’s on.
  • Wash hands after taking it off at the end of the day. 
  • Wash cloth masks in the washing machine after each day’s use. If that is not possible, seal it in a plastic bag until the next use. 
  • Make it fun. If possible, let kids choose or decorate their mask. 

Large retailers, including Old Navy and Target, have cloth masks available in sizes for adults and children. 

These children’s specialty retailers also have cloth masks available for adults and kids:

  • BooginHead: modern, playful and classic patterns in a structured form fitting cut, two per pack, filters also available. 
  • Funkins: bright patterns, including ladybugs, koalas, ninjas and more, available in different designs, including one with a nose-bridge wire. 
  • Giftgowns: Bright, funs prints are available in bundles, filters also available. 
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