States still vary widely in their mandates related to masks, but whatever the rule is where you are, the science tells us that covering your face is a good idea. (The CDC recommends masks on children over age 2. Children younger than 2 should not wear masks.) As more children head back to in-person school, masks on kids as young as 4 or 5 are becoming pretty common, and it’s likely that our kids will still be masking up for school next year. So what do parents need to know about keeping their kids masked, safe, and not whining? (Okay, we can’t make any promises about the whining.)
Fit matters. If the mask is too big, it’s going to be all kinds of wrong—falling down, bothering your child, and not protecting anyone in the process. Even on a small human’s face, the mask shouldn’t let air in around the cheeks, chin, or nose. Look for a mask with adjustable ear straps and a nose wire so you can adjust the fittings to your child’s face. If your favorite mask can’t be adjusted around the head or ears, “ear savers” are an affordable way to get a better fit.
Some materials are better than others. A face covering made of cotton is better than nothing, but for a higher level of filtration—meaning fewer particles of virus are going to move in both directions, in toward your kid and out toward the world—you’ll want a mask that has multiple layers of material, including a layer acting as a filter. (Here’s a neat interactive from the New York Times that shows how different kinds of masks work.) Paper surgical masks (the kind you see at the doctor’s office), multi-layered cloth masks with a filter added, or “nanofiber” masks offer good protection.
The best mask is the one your kid will wear. A super protective mask that your child keeps pulling off isn’t doing anyone any good. The most important thing is your kid has a mask that fits well and feels good—otherwise, as any parent knows, it’s just going to come off.
Here are our recommended masks for every kid and budget:
AirBon: At around $2 per mask, this is a great option that combines an affordable price tag with highly effective filtration. (They come in packs of 5, 10 or more, and the more you buy, the more you save per mask.) The fit can be a little tricky, so we recommend pairing with ear savers if necessary.
Kid-sized surgical masks: The upside of this type of mask: They’re super affordable, at around .50 cents per mask. The downside: There are lots of options out there, so it can be hard to know what kind of quality you’re getting. Plus, disposable masks are hard on the environment, and their cost adds up over time.
KF94 family pack: Here’s a family pack of high-quality KF94 masks, including 10 for adults and 5 for kids. This supplier also offers individual KF94 and flat surgical-style masks in children’s sizes.
Happy Masks: At around $20, this mask is pricier than anything else on our list. But if you’re looking for a long-lasting, reusable option with an adjustable fit, Happy Masks offer some advantages. Because of their “beak” shape, these masks don’t come into contact with your kid’s mouth or the tip of their nose. No gross, soggy mask at the end of the day means you don’t have to wash this nearly as often as cloth masks, and the nanofiber filter is highly protective.
“The most important thing is your kid has a mask that fits well and feels good—otherwise, as any parent knows, it’s just going to come off.”
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