Getting A Toddler to Wear a Mask

Let me start off by giving some context. We are still in the middle of a global pandemic as a result of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, or rona, or whatever we want to call it. The rates of infection have not even remotely started decreasing in the U.S. In fact, many states are seeing increases in daily cases. While we don’t know everything about COVID-19, we do have some background on how to prevent the spread of any virus and wearing masks is an important part of that. That’s not new information; we’re just kind of behind on this practice in the U.S. Other countries have been wearing masks to prevent spreading even the common cold for years. My wife and I believe it’s part of our responsibility to wear masks to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, even if we fully believe we don’t have COVID-19, and even if it decreases the chances of spreading only a little, because that’s better than nothing. I also want to add that we live in Los Angeles, which mandated masks for anyone 2 years and over in public way back sometime in early April.

Second day wearing a mask

Also, I’m going to go on record and say that if the goal of wearing masks or face coverings is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, then kids need to be the main ones wearing them. Last week, my two year old, who otherwise behaves like a miniature adult with emotion control issues, literally drooled right into my eyeball. It was traumatizing….to say the very least. He has zero, 100% ZERO, sense of what it means to cover a cough or a sneeze, wipes his hands on literally everything, and doesn’t understand personal space. The personal space thing is real because the 6-feet rule will almost entirely be ignored by him. Also, he isn’t one of those special toddlers who can’t spread illnesses to others…I was sick almost every single month between Oct 2019 and March 2020 (when he was in daycare). If he gets something, whether he is actually sick himself or not, he can still pass it to others and we’ve almost all been taken out by one of those near-deadly child colds at some point.

Finally, toddlers have no idea when they should and shouldn’t be putting their hands in their mouth and nose. While a mask might not necessarily 100% stop COVID-19 from getting through, I can tell you it will for sure stop my kid from literally eating the virus after touching the elevator button. So, I’m not entirely sure why people think kids are somehow okay to not be wearing masks, but it’s not cool with with us. He wears one every time we leave the house without fail and keeps it on. People have noticed on our Insta stories and while we’re out walking around, and some have asked how it is that we got him to wear one, so I thought I’d write it out here for others to also use.

Don’t Give In

This is the very first step that I’m sure if you’re saying, my kid just won’t do it, you’ve probably already somewhat given up on them doing it. Let me assure you, they can do it. L was 2 years and 1 week when he was wearing his mask with zero issues. I have faith that your 2+ year old can do it also, it’s just that they don’t want to, which is fair, but something to keep in mind if you really want this to happen. The ability is certainly there.

The first day, we put the mask on him and he was perfectly fine, for all of 30 seconds. Then he took it off and cried about having to wear it. We were at the front door and explained to him that we all had to wear masks to go outside now. He cried. He refused. We did not go outside. I sat on the couch and put him on my lap. Hugged him. Held back tears myself. It sucked. It was awful to be quarantined for a month already, dealing with both parents working full time from home and his only outlet is getting to go outside to walk for half an hour and now there’s this. Both B and I cried about it later. But, we did not let him leave the house that day without his mask. We set the president that he won’t be allowed to leave the house without a mask from day one.

He might be outside in his pajamas…but he’s wearing a mask.

This may sound harsh, but think about it, you set similar rules with your toddler all the time. They can’t ride their bike or scooter without a helmet, can’t ride in the car without being in the car seat, can’t eat until they wash their hands….there’s a lot of things that we require them to do, before they’re allowed to do something they want to do, for their own safety and protection. This shouldn’t be viewed any differently.

He was literally outside with a mask on (at the time it was just a repurposed bandanna bib) within 10 minutes of his initial meltdown. It seemed long because we were all emotionally struggling, but it really wasn’t. He needed reminders to keep it on or we would have to go back inside, but it stayed on. I will say that, depending on how often you’ve given in on this, or other things, in the past, your timeline might look a little different, but not impossible.

Modeling The Behavior

The other day, there was a woman with her two kids waiting for the elevator with L and I. One of the kids was definitely younger than 2, but the older one had to be about 7 or 8. She was using L as an example, “see, he’s wearing a mask,” and then turned to me to complain about how she couldn’t get them to wear masks. I never know what to say in these situations, but the first thing that wanted to come out of my mouth was, “well, you aren’t wearing one.” I’d say 9 times out of 10, the complaining parent doesn’t consistently wear a mask. If your kid doesn’t see the people around them doing it, it’s definitely not going to help the case. Every single time we leave the house, we wear a mask. Taking the trash out? Mask. Taking the dogs out? Mask. Going to the vending machine? Mask.

Also, there are plenty of people walking around in masks that he notices it’s not just us. At this point, he very well might not even remember when masks weren’t a thing.

Another thing that really helped was a family member sent over a bunch of pictures of Mickey Mouse wearing a mask that we showed him. At the time, it was his favorite character and he seemed to really like the idea that Mickey was also wearing a mask.


Once he wore, he wore. There was no, “okay, today it’s fine if you don’t.” There was no, “we’re just going to the mailbox.” It certainly helps that we live in an apartment building in a pretty urban area, so we don’t have a yard and as soon as we leave our front door there’s a pretty strong possibility we’re going to run into someone. So, there’s no outside for him that’s not in public space. We know consistency was our saving grace because the one time we allowed him to have his mask off outside (for three days straight he asked to eat donuts on a chair outside and we finally did it), he didn’t want to put it back on. But even then, I pointed out how we had masks on and told him he had two options: 1) mask on or 2) back in the house.

Just Don’t Let it Be An Option

I think some of us think, well masks are uncomfortable, they’re hot, they’re hard to breathe in, they’re sweaty, and all the things we don’t like about them and immediately project them onto toddlers and young children and that it must be SO much worse for them and that makes us allow them to then make the decision to not wear them. However, I could literally say the exact same thing about boots, yet, if they live in a place were it snows, we don’t let our kids just peel them off whenever they want; we know it’s not in their best interest. While the mask might not fully prevent them from catching the virus while in public, it surely can be a barrier for them touching their nose and mouth, AND it can definitely help with being sure they’re not little tiny vehicles for transmission.

At this point, two months later, L gets ready to go outside and has a mantra he repeats (because toddlers say things over and over): “shoes, helmet, mask.”

Playing outside like normal

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