Mask Wearing Tips and Strategies

Unfortunately, our “new normal” includes face masks, hand washing and social distancing. 

I do not know if face masks work and I’m not interested in debating that subject with anyone.   I do know that many places are moving towards required/mandatory face masks for admittance and appointments. 

Many children and even for adults-wearing a mask can be challenging-uncomfortable and claustrophobic. It is especially difficult for those with sensory issues and special needs.

In many instances, young children under 2 and individuals with medical conditions are exempt from wearing masks. Many parents are concerned about taking their kids out to public places even if they are medically exempt from wearing a mask because it may be busy and physical distancing is impossible; they may become exposed to the virus; you may have to explain your child’s medical situation to gain admittance; and then you may have to deal with comments from others because your child has an invisible disability. 

In April, we started preparing for Stalen to wear a mask in anticipation of upcoming medical appointments.

My goal has been for him to wear a mask for a short period of time (like in hospital hallways or when quickly navigating a busy area where physical distancing is just not possible). We are working towards increasing the amount of time he will tolerate the mask. Our overall goal is for Stalen to wear a mask for 20 minutes. I think the hardest part for him and many others is to willingly allow someone put the mask on their face. 

We have had some success with Stalen wearing a mask so I’m sharing what has worked for us. Perhaps it will give you some ideas on what will work for you. I hope it will help all parents…

Step 1: Purchase a mask for your child, yourself and others in your household. We chose a minion and a paw patrol mask for Stalen. I chose a mask with puppies for myself.  I recommend you get at least two masks for your child which is a good idea so they always have one available for wear. You can also allow them to choose which mask they want to wear which sometimes helps and makes it seem more their idea. 

Step 2: Introduce mask wearing to your child. Wear your mask several times a day for a minute or two and show them. Let your child touch the masks if they choose too. Expose your child to seeing as many people wearing masks as possible especially Mom/Dad, their favorite teddy bear or stuffed animal. (If you purchase two masks for your child you will always have an extra for their teddy/doll). 

We also paired this step with a social story:

Step 3: Leave your child’s mask out in close proximity to where they are. When Stalen is at the table looking at a book, I set his mask on the table near him. I also put my mask on for 1-2 minute increments while at the table. You can start off by having it out but not within reach and gradually increase how close it comes to them. This step may take longer or be quicker depending on how your child feels about the mask. 

If your child shows an interest in touching the mask or trying to wear it-use positive reinforcement. For example, Stalen sometimes takes his mask and sets it on top of his head so when he does this I cheer and give him his favourite-a piece of chocolate covered granola. 

Step 4: When your child is comfortable with having the mask near them you can begin breaking down wearing it into a series of goals. Be sure to model each goal for your child using your own mask. Get other family members to model and participate as well. You can also use their teddy bear/ doll to model the steps. 

You can see me model mask wearing for Stalen here:

We have broken it down to 4 step goals using keywords “ear”, “ear”, “pull up” or “pull down” ( whatever is required to position it properly). 

goal 1: get one mask loop over one ear. If successful immediately remove and use positive reinforcement. Once successful at least 3 times in one day go to goal 2. If unsuccessful, you may need to break it down to smaller steps like touch mask to ear and slowly work up to loop over one ear. 

goal 2: get mask loop over both ears at same time. If successful immediately remove and use positive reinforcement. Once successful 3 times in one day go to goal 3. If unsuccessful, break it down to a smaller goal like get mask loop over one ear and touch other ear with loop. 

goal 3: get mask loop over both ears and adjust over mouth with nose free. If successful immediately remove and use positive reinforcement. Once successful 3 times in one day go to goal 4. If unsuccessful a smaller goal may be get mask over both ears and touch face with mask. 

goal 4: get mask loop over both ears, adjust to cover mouth and nose. If successful immediately remove and use positive reinforcement. If successful 3 times in one day go to step 6. 

Step 5: Practice getting the mask on for a few days. Once it is successfully on and adjusted immediately remove and give positive reinforcement. Once this is built up you can begin working on tolerance time. 

Step 6: Increase the amount of time your child will tolerate wearing a mask. We started with 15 second increments and slowly increased each day by 15 seconds. We used lots of positive reinforcement to help increase the time. If you cannot reach the 15 second goal increase then decrease the time.

You can see Stalen wear his mask here:

Overall the goal is to increase the time by a small tolerable amount each day leading up to your desired wearing time. 

We built up the time that Stalen would wear his mask by wearing his mask during activities that he really likes. When he’s distracted he doesn’t notice the mask as much. We took the mask outside and he wore it when on his swing or playing in his sand box. We wore it inside when we were jumping and dancing. 

Wearing a mask is especially difficult and sensory challenging. This process took us months.

Practice , consistency and keeping it positive are key. 

If your child becomes upset by the mask or what your doing…slow it down. You may need to break things down even more and spend many days on a particular step. 

If you get to a step and get stuck, please reach out and I will try to assist as much as possible. 

Good luck and happy mask wearing! 


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