Trouble Wearing Masks: Tips to Help Kids at School
The Understood Team
Wearing face masks is tough for some kids, even in short bursts. Wearing masks for longer stretches when they’re back in school may be a real struggle, especially for kids who learn and think differently. Here are some reasons why it’s hard for kids to wear a mask, and tips for helping.
Impulsivity and Wearing Masks
Impulsive kids often act without thinking. They may do things like pull off their mask to talk to friends or teachers without realizing they’re doing it. They don’t mean to be defiant. But they struggle with self-control, which makes it hard to stop and think about the rules or risks.
Quick tip for families: Clip a breakaway lanyard to one of the elastic ear straps of your child’s mask. That way when it’s pulled off, it’s hanging around your child’s neck as a reminder to put it back on. (It also won’t drop on the ground.)
Quick tip for teachers: Stay calm and reiterate the expectations around mask-wearing. It can be scary to think about what could happen if kids don’t wear their masks. But reacting in fear can escalate the situation from a simple reminder to a bigger behavior challenge.
Sensory Issues and Wearing Masks
Wearing a mask can be very upsetting for kids with sensory processing issues. They may not be able to tolerate the feel, smell, or closeness of a mask. That extreme discomfort can cause them to take off or fiddle with their masks and might even lead to meltdowns.
Quick tip for families: Making your own masks lets you take your child’s sensitivities into account. Try using one of your child’s old T-shirts. You can find patterns and ideas online. If you’re not handy or don’t have time, see if a friend or relative can help.
Quick tip for teachers: Check in with parents about how kids have been tolerating wearing masks at home. Talk with your administration about alternatives kids can use, like face shields. Ask, too, if a plexiglass divider can be used around kids’ desks when they’re not moving around the room so they can have a break from wearing a mask.
Trouble With Focus and Wearing Masks
Kids who struggle with focus and memory can have a hard time following rules. They may miss directions the teacher gives about mask-wearing or quickly forget them.
Quick tip for families: First, make sure your child knows why masks are important. Look at the school’s guidelines, and then create a list of rules for where and when to wear a mask at school. You can do this in writing or using pictures. Go over the rules every morning before school.
Quick tip for teachers: Be honest and open with kids about the fact that we all forget things sometimes. As a class, talk through how you can respectfully remind others to put their masks on. You can also use when-then sentences to model what needs to happen. (“When you put on your mask, then you can meet us in the art room.”)
Trouble With Motor Skills and Wearing Masks
Poor motor skills can make it physically hard for kids to get masks on and off and adjust them to fit well. Kids may struggle in a few ways. They might have trouble making the right movements, grasping and maneuvering the elastic ear bands, or following the steps involved.
Quick tip for families: Give your child lots of practice getting masks on and off. Your child can also “help” a favorite stuffed animal or doll put one on. If your school is flexible about face coverings, a neck gaiter may be easier for your child to use independently.
Quick tip for teachers: Talk to parents and caregivers about practicing at home. Tell families where kids are getting tripped up in the process, so they know what to practice. And share the different types of face coverings your school district allows.
Families and educators: Stay in contact about student challenges this year with our back-to-school update form.
Back-to-School Update: Tell Teachers How Your Child Is Doing