LISTEN | Your family and Covid-19 masks: What do the doctors say?

Should kids be wearing masks?
Should kids be wearing masks?

With the announcement that school would reopen in June, came details of how the Department of Basic Education (DBE) would keep students and teachers safe at school.

In addition to constant handwashing, frequent use of hand sanitiser and strict physical distancing measures, is the expectation that everyone will wear masks.

Studies show that wearing masks is one of the best ways to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and according to the government everyone, including children, is expected to wear masks whenever they leave the home. 

Find out more here: Masks and Covid-19: How, when and why – the latest guidelines

Whether you feel that masks are effective or not, it helps to remember that you're wearing a mask to protect other people, and that they are wearing theirs to protect you. 

It's easy enough for an adult to understand, but children find it harder to adjust to the feel of a mask, and the sight of others wearing masks.

Should be wearing a mask, and how do we get them to adjust?

We spoke to Dr Carol Bosch to learn more about Covid-19 safety measures, and the use of masks. Listen to her unpack the details above. For further information on mask wearing, read on...

No masks for kids under age two

Internationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) agree that children under the age of two should not wear masks.

Closer to home, local mask manufacturers say that masks are not advised for children below the age of 3, or for any child with respiratory conditions.

This is because babies have smaller airways, and covering their faces increases risks of suffocation, or even injury if they try to remove the mask.

The best way to keep babies safe from Covid-19 infection is to keep them at home, or at the very least them away from people. 

But as schools open and the kids get out and about more, parents are struggling to keep masks on their toddlers and younger children.

"Just irritation" 

Parents have also expressed concerns about the amount of fresh oxygen coming through the fabric, as well as how the mask is a skin irritant and a distraction.

In a recent back-to-school panel discussion with several local experts, Professor Eugene Weinberg said that parents need not be concerned, as problems with the recommended cloth masks are "just irritation".

Watch the discussion here: Is it safe to send your kids to school? The experts weigh in


Professor Weinberg said that children find the masks especially irritating behind their ears, and he suggests the use of a bandage or Vaseline on that area, to avoid irritation.

He stressed that masks must be washed regularly, and that students must have at least two masks so that they have one to wear when washing the other. 

Also on the panel which discussed the safety of a June return to school, Professor Heather Zar said that masks are essential, and suggests everyone to carry a brown paper where they put their masks after taking it off, until it can be washed.

She acknowledged that for young kids, a mask is very irritating and suggests as a second-best option a visor can be used, even though it is not as protective as a mask.

Read: Your protective face mask might be causing your skin to breakout

Reassuring fearful youngsters

Many children find the sight of people wearing masks scary.

One mom shared that her child has even had nightmares. "We try to avoid it if we can, but we tell him it's to avoid the virus. He knows what the virus is and why we're staying at home. I just had to talk him through it." 

She says they wears masks "for fun in the house for short periods of time, to show its not scary". 

Another parent said she made the family their own masks out of fun fabrics. "We have been 'practicing' at home, lots of play with them, the dolls all have one now," she explained. 

Psychologist Gerda Kriel said there is no 'one size fits all' way to prepare your child for wearing a mask, and indeed some children are quite frightened of people in masks.

WATCH: Learn to how to make a cloth mask - no sewing required!

She suggests parents prepare their kids by initiating a conversation with them to find out how they feel about masks, and also start thinking about how to introduce masks to their children.

Kriel recommends using practical ways to get kids used to masks, such as playing games where you act out a situation where he or she talks to a person wearing a mask, or putting a mask on a teddy bear. 

For children aged 10 years and up, she says, the parent needs to communicate with them, and properly explain, because at that age they can understand how important it is to comply.  

Save or print this mask safety graphic as a quick reference:

clothing-masks-infographic---(web)-logo-who

This video released locally also offers useful information on mask use. Watch below, or on YouTube:

How have your kids taken to the idea of wearing masks? Let us know!

Chat back:

Share your story with Parent24. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

Email: Share your story with us via email at chatback @ parent24.com

Sign up for Parent24's newsletters.


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24