TORONTO -- As cities across Canada begin to require mask wearing in public spaces, it can be quite an adjustment for anyone, let alone young children.

Kids who might not understand the pandemic might be confused about the sudden need to wear a mask in public, and with a possible return to school looming, teaching a child how to wear a mask and encouraging them to wear it can be a challenge. spoke with Dr. Jason Brophy, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, to offer advice on what parents can do to encourage their kids to wear a mask while in public.


Brophy said it’s important for parents to recognize that not all children should be wearing masks and that it’s OK if a child simply can’t wear one.

Health Canada has said that children under the age of two should not wear a mask, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests "anyone who has trouble breathing" or is "unable to remove the mask without assistance," should also avoid wearing a mask.

Brophy also points out that children with autism might not be able to wear a mask either.

“A lot of them have significant sensitivity to things on their face or certain textures or sensations and so they might not be able to wear a mask as easily and we need to be conscious that that's ok,” he said in a phone interview.


One of the easiest ways to encourage a child to wear a mask is to try and make it fun for them, which could include having the children decorate a mask or having them play doctor while at home.

“For younger kids, especially if it's something that might be scary for them, they can start by putting a mask on their stuffed toy or putting a mask on themselves in the mirror,” Brophy said. “Maybe the parents do it with them so that it's something like it's fun, and they do together, and it's not going to be as scary that way.”

Brophy also suggests showing children images of other kids or famous people wearing masks.

“For my nephews, I would show them a picture of John Cena wearing a mask because they're big fans of him,” he said.


When it comes to answering the classic kids’ question -- “But why?” -- Brophy suggests keeping the explanation really simple, particularly among younger children.

“We can't explain big details to little kids, because it's going to be beyond them,” he said. “It won't make sense to them.”

Brophy recommends responding with something along the lines of “to stay healthy” or “to make sure everyone’s healthy.”

“My own nephews, who are young, know that if they (wear a mask), they're going to be protecting their grandparents,” he said. “That, I think, is also a good way to contextualize it.”


While there is some debate as to whether masks will be mandatory once children return to school, there’s no question some parents will want their kids to wear them in the classroom.

Dr. Amy Tan, organizer of Masks4Canada, said the best way for children to get used to wearing a mask for long periods of time is to begin incorporating it into daily life.

“This is a learned skill for all of us, adults and children,” she told CTV News Channel. “We get trained in medical school how to wear a mask and put them on properly. (It’s) the same thing we need to do for the public and that includes young children as well.”

Tan said Masks4Canada is pushing for masks to be worn among high school-aged children and higher-grade elementary students, but acknowledges that there might be an added challenge with the younger students.

“We absolutely want schools to open, but we think doing everything we can, having all tools at our disposal to keep the cases down, that’s the best chance we have,” she said.

Tan also suggested that classes on best practises for mask wearing, proper hand hygiene and social distancing should be ingrained into the school curriculum to ensure everyone understands the proper procedures.


While teaching children about the importance of wearing a mask in public, Brophy said it’s important parents lead by example.

“We shouldn't ask kids to do something that we're not going to do ourselves as adults,” he said. “If we ask them to wear it, then we should wear it, too.”

Brophy said parents could suggest that they both wear masks together.

“You can wear it down the street and back, something like that, because it's going to be difficult for kids to get used to it initially because it's something new, and they're not as tolerant of irritations,” he said.