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Are We Done With Masks? Teaching Your Child to Tolerate Wearing a Mask: How to UnMask the Mask

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

It's been the strangest year of my life. One thing I have grown to unhappily accept, is the new reality that masks will be around for a while. There are many of us (me included) who find it so challenging to adjust. I wear a mask for at least seven hours a day - my nose has gone through various stages of raw, red, and broken out... and the kiddos I work with have felt the pain too. Have yours?

We all know that If your child has special needs, masks are a whole other level of challenge they need to adjust to (and that means YOU have to be the problem solver and figure out how to get the "mask" thing to work). Will the CDC recommend using masks again anytime soon? If so, how do we attempt to normalize, or at least increase the tolerance to using masks, especially for our kiddos who may have sensory challenges?

Here are some tips that will help your child successfully adjust to mask use. Remember not to put a mask on children younger than age two, due to the danger of suffocation.

Before you go anywhere…. Work on it at home where things are comfortable and controlled.

AND if you see your child becoming upset, stop what you are doing and try again later. If your child associates this with something negative, it will become harder to adjust to in the long term. We want this to be successful!

Also remember that with anything, this might take a little time to accomplish; don’t be discouraged, keep trying. Begin with small increments of time and eventually build up to wearing it more (even if it is only for a minute or less). I suggest utilizing a visual timer (I use the Visual Countdown Timer app- it’s free and has a rubber duck icon. The countdown begins green and counts down to red, slowly revealing a picture underneath. When the timer runs out, a fun, exciting sound plays and the picture spins. Great visual positive feedback). Try it multiple times throughout the day. This can establish a baseline of how long they tolerate it- for example, if your child wears it for two minutes, two times a day, that is your starting point and you are going to encourage for slightly longer the next day.

Begin by offering a choice, allow your child to pick which mask they will use- the fabric, pattern or color can make it their own. Websites like and have a variety of prints, shapes and sizes!

Decorate it with stickers or color it! Make it fun! For example, show them in a mirror, take their picture in it, take pictures together, don’t let your child see you stressed about it either. Show your child the fabric is similar to your clothing. Have their special stuffed animal wear a mask. Interact with it in a positive way. Draw pictures including people with masks, leave some out for your child to play with and explore. Be playful- try peek-a-boo for our younger kiddos! Remember your child sees your reaction; if you are negative, they will be too!

Prepare for using the mask- look at visuals of people wearing masks. Watch videos on YouTube that have been created to help explain using a mask. Read a social story on wearing masks- we have a great free social story on the Resource tab right on our website-it is free and printable. Just print, laminate and use! If you are using a social story, read it often so it becomes part of the routine.

Begin with desensitization- vibration (using an electric toothbrush or a Nuk can be helpful). Wash your child’s face with a textured washcloth (warm water is comforting, and cold water is arousing). Cloth fabrics might be less scratchy and therefore more tolerated!

If you feel that your child is sensitive to their breath inside the mask, allow them to put on scented lip balm on their lips or inside the mask. I ate a mint the other day while wearing my mask and it cleared my sinuses right up!!! (and made my eyes burn)!!!

While wearing your mask, place the mask on your kiddo and make sure it is adjusted correctly- too tight will not encourage your child to wear it.

If your child has sensitive ears, doesn’t like the mask ear loops, or complains that the mask rubs or hurts their ears, there are also so many ways to keep the mask elastic from hurting those delicate ears. First, find a mask that ties behind the head, use buttons to fasten the mask to a hairband or elastics and a button to attach the mask to a pair of glasses. OR You can attach a button to a favorite cap and loop the elastic around the button instead of your kiddos ears! Also, If you aren't much of a sewer (or if you just want to order something to make your life easier) Amazon also has a variety of inexpensive ear savers and face mask extenders that can do the trick too!!

**Then check your baseline (how long will they wear it?) You can assist if necessary. If they do not want to wear it at all, place it in their lap or next to them; do they tolerate that? The baseline determines how long they tolerate it next to them. Record how long the baseline lasts; that is your starting point! Once you have your starting point, aim for that amount of time throughout the day, multiple times!

There are two effective methods, depending on your child- 1) Allow your child a positive reinforcer when wearing the mask- i.e., watch youtube, play a computer game, read a book. Once your child exceeds their baseline time, add a small increment of time- i.e., 15 or 30 secs…or more if they allow. Be sure to flood with positive praise! Use a child-led reinforcer- i.e., “What would you like to do while we use our masks?” If you find they want to remove it, give a gentle reminder, “If you keep your mask on, you can play on the iPad.”

Or 2) Allow your child to have the reinforcer after they use the mask for a specific period of time given- i.e., use the visual timer. Positive reinforcers can be motivating, so if you are going to use this method, make sure you are utilizing the most preferred reinforcer you can!

Since kiddos ages 5-10 are always reaching to be more independent, if they understand, explain it in gentle terms- talk about germs and how masks help us to avoid germs. Explain that they are superhero helpers protecting the community!

For children older than 10, they just want to be heard and validated… so listen, explain that wearing masks is for their own health, explain social distancing, talk about the importance to protect those around them! Involve them in making their own mask at home! There are a lot of no-sew ideas available!

Make sure that once your child is wearing their mask, generate rules (like when, where and why they need to wear a mask) and allow breaks to take the mask off!

Last but not Least… Praise your child for being amazing!!!

Do you have any more ideas to add? Please leave us comments…

after all, we are better


You're amazing! Don't tell yourself any different!

-Ms. Jen

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