Getting a child to wear something they don’t want to is an age-old battle every parent will recognise. So the news that children over the age of two should wear a face mask when they step outside the front door will make parental panic levels skyrocket.
Whilst we’re not talking full-on PPE, necessary for frontline NHS workers only, the use of fabric masks for the whole family is set to become the new norm in enclosed spaces such as shops, trains and buses (although anyone with respiratory problems is exempt, as are “those who may find it difficult to manage coverings correctly”).
As a mum of two adolescent, often distracted boys (11 and 13), it’s hard enough to get them to meet the most basic of fully-clothed looks on any given day – never mind wear (and keep on) something as horrifyingly ‘uncool’ as a mask. Throw into the mix a toddler who majors in Force-10 tantrums, or a defiant preschooler, and it’s clear that parents have their work cut out.
So, what should we be looking for in a mask for our children? And, how on earth do we get the reluctant ones to toe the line?
Unlike medical grade PPE, there are no set regulations for general-wear face masks; they come in all shapes and sizes. But the same guidelines about fit and fabric for adult masks apply to kids’ face masks. As a rule of thumb, masks should be made from at least two layers of breathable, washable, fabric and should fit securely – covering the nose and mouth completely – but without causing discomfort. For children, a sensible precaution to add is that they should be able to take the masks off themselves, just in case they were to ever encounter breathing difficulties, however unlikely that may be.
Where to buy children’s face masks
Covid-19’s asteroid-like entrance means that a quick Google of ‘kids’ face masks’ feels like stepping into the Wild West of wearable protection – it’s a new and confusing frontier. Everyone from samaritans with sewing machines and home-based cottage industries to high fashion names pivoting their brand seem to be offering something.
According to online shopping hub Etsy, in recent weeks people have searched for masks on the site nine times per second (that’s nearly a million searches a day).
Unless you are one of the lucky few handy with a Singer then there are some good sites that tick the boxes for ‘recommended features’ and are shipping out kids’ masks right now.
For the 2-6 age group, badge-design.co.uk offer 20 fun, British-made designs (£6.90 each) such as cat mouths, unicorns and rainbow patterns. Plus, they also do a range of geometric and camo prints for the picky teen. Both come with filter inserts for extra protection and the younger version with a toggle tie system for small hands to adjust easily.
Fashion brand Le Colonel has face masks for kids aged 6-9 (£28 for a set of 3) with a sartorial twist. Reusable and washable at 60 degrees they are made from three layers of fabric.
Cycling brand Nopinz (www.nopinz.com) has turned its skills to children’s protection too. Instead of making time-trial suits for the Tour de France and Olympics, they’re turning out masks from their factory in Devon, using hi-tech, hydrophobic material (£12.99).
Others we found include Midlands-based JustHype.co.uk which has packs of 3 (£24.99) in monochrome and tropical designs with FFP1 filters, for kids up to 10.
Good Ordering (goodordering.com) is selling reusable masks for ages 3 -12 with a three-layer 100pc natural fabric system for £12, and pop art brand Binge (www.bingedesigns.com) has seven layers, activated carbon filter masks for older teens (£8.99) with all profits going to the NHS.
And there’s no excuse not to look on-trend in a pandemic it seems. Fashion darling Pearl Lowe (www.pearllowe.co.uk) is making masks from her Somerset studio (£25 each – great for older teens), available in a range of Fashion Week-fabulous Liberty designs. London theatre prop maker Alice Cox (alicecoxcreative.com) has masks (£10) with a pocket for a filter and a non-elastic band to minimise irritation around the ears, and designer Rachel Riley (www.rachelriley.co.uk) has traditionally crafted and satin-lined vintage style masks (3+) costing £19 each.
How to persuade your child to wear a coronavirus face mask
Finding the perfect mask could be considered the easy part; the acid test in the coming weeks and months will also be persuading kids to keep them on.
Joanna Fortune is a psychotherapist, author and parenting expert. She says that making mask wearing fun and game-like will increase the chances of cooperation.
“For younger ones playful preparation is key,” she says. “Masks can be scary for them, so try playing a game for 15 minutes where they have to ‘guess the feeling’ from your eyes alone, or tell a story about why we need to wear masks and focus on using positive language.
“Normalise masks by wearing your own without any fanfare. Children of all ages look to us for emotional and behavioural cues.”
Fortune also recommends letting kids get arty and creative with the process. “Consider getting kids to personalise them, let them loose with stickers, ribbons and pens, or make one for their favourite teddy. Something new like wearing masks might be met with stages of resistance but rather than fight against it, try to work through it together.
“Build up familiarity by wearing them around the house or your own garden first.”
And what about the hard-core refuseniks, such as older teens, who are still refusing to cover up despite your best efforts?
“Acknowledge how they are feeling but communicate gently yet clearly what the rules are,” she says. “With older children, use the same formula of acceptance and empathy, but make it clear that it’s something they have to do if they want to go out. Masks are something new for us all to get used to and it takes time to adjust so try to be patient and calm.”
In our house I’ve hatched a watertight plan. Pandemic-proofing the kids will be a cinch – as long as someone, somewhere starts making Fortnite face masks.
While face masks may be the least welcome accessory on any under-18’s wish list, the very real need for them isn’t showing any signs of going out of fashion.