Masks and children during COVID-19
Vaccines, keeping safe distances, cleaning hands, and wearing a mask are all measures that help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The vast majority of children and youth, including those with underlying health conditions or allergies, can safely wear a mask.
Masks should not be worn by:
- Children under 2 years of age;
- Anyone who is unable to remove the mask without help.
Children with respiratory conditions like asthma can wear a mask. Air passes easily through all mask types. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have concerns.
Wearing something that covers the mouth and nose may be challenging for children with autism spectrum disorder or sensory issues. Resources listed below may help.
What to choose? Respirators, medical and cloth masks
The best mask for your child is one that fits properly and that your child can wear for an extended period.
Disposable, surgical-style masks: These disposable masks work better if you use techniques to keep them on snugly. For example, you can use “ear savers” or hair clips to fasten the ear loops behind the head. Or you can “tuck and tie”: knot the ear loops as close to the mask edge as possible to minimize air leaks (gaps) and tuck the edges of the mask in to seal the sides. Look for appropriately sized surgical 2 or 3 ply masks. Medical masks that are a bit damp from breathing can dry out in a paper bag (preferably in sunlight) and be reused if necessary.
Cloth masks: If you use a cloth mask, make sure it has at least 3 layers and fits the face snugly. You can also layer a cloth mask over a medical mask. Wash cloth masks often in hot water. If the mask has a removable filter, make sure to remove it before washing the mask.
Respirators: N95/KN95/KF94 masks are also called “respirators”. These fit snugly to the face and have either ear loops or two elastics that go behind the head. Respirators filter airborne viruses like COVID. They are most effective if they are properly fitted for the person wearing them. Children's sizes are available and may fit smaller children better. Respirators can be more costly than other masks. They are available online or at some local stores, such as pharmacies. Respirators can be stored in a clean cloth or paper bag between uses.
For surgical and cloth masks, you can purchase a mask fitter (an elastic frame) that seals the mask more tightly to the nose, mouth and face.
All masks should be changed if they get damp, dirty or the ear loops stretch or break.
Tips to help children wear masks
- Explain to your child why it is important to wear a mask in language they can understand, such as: “Wearing a mask can help protect you and the people in your classroom, and others around us, from germs that can make us sick.”
- Involve children in choosing their mask. Children are more likely to wear masks they choose.
- Make sure that the mask is comfortable and fits snugly over the nose and mouth, without any gaps.
- Make sure your child can breathe easily, and is able to talk, laugh and play while wearing the mask.
- If you can, buy several masks. They should be changed if they become wet or dirty, or if the straps break.
- Ensure children know how to wear a mask.
- Help them get used to it, working from short to longer periods.
- Practice putting it on and taking it off safely by using the straps.
- Encourage your child to not touch the mask or their face when the mask is on.
More information from the CPS
- COVID-19 mask use: Advice for community settings (Public Health Agency of Canada)
- Tips to help encourage kids to wear masks (CTV News)
- Can’t get an N95 for kids? How to mask your children for Ontario’s return to school (Toronto Star)
- Let’s up your mask game! (Masks4Canada)
- The use of masks during COVID-19 (Canadian Red Cross)
- Evidence-informed cloth masks
- Helping people with autism spectrum disorder manage masks and COVID-19 tests
- Caregiver tips to make mask-wearing easier for people with autism (video)
- I Can Wear a Face Mask! (social story)
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Environmental Health Section
Last updated: February 2022