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Masks at school: 'Start Smart, Stay Smart' advice to prepare your child

Homework for parents: Know what not to say to your kids.

CLEVELAND — It’s not backpacks, sneakers, or a trendy lunchbox. Rather, this year’s must-have back to school item is the face mask.

Plenty of styles to choose from, but here's a query for parents: Is your child ready to wear one throughout the day?

Let’s face it: An annoying mask is an unsafe mask. Kids will fidget with it, wear it improperly, or take it off. Now is the time to do a little face mask homework before sending kids back to school.

"First and foremost, parents set the tone," child health counselor Dr. Joanna Ale told us. "So if you complain all the time about wearing the mask, and you don’t like it, the children will pick up on that."

Masks are a topic the world is still learning about, and wearing them to slow the spread of COVID-19 comes with questions and some training.

"[Your kids] going to be curious" Ale stressed. "Just answer to the best of your ability at this point. We can’t expect parents to or anybody to have all the answers, but the best we can do is communicate openly and honestly with children."

To help kids adjust, the first thing parents must do is set the example. If children see you do it as part of your routine, they are more likely to do it too. Also, start pairing mask-wearing with a fun activity such as playing their favorite game.

One math teacher/dad recently posted a picture of his son, wearing a mask. He created a rule that his kids can only have screen-time if they are wearing a mask. Other parents responded, saying they have tried it and it works!

Credit: Leland Michael

That’s helped them slowly increase the time kids have those face coverings on, the last step in a "Start Smart, Stay Smart" return to school. One last bit of advice: Have your child pick out their own mask, but just make sure it fits properly. No gaps on the sides, and it shouldn’t sag below their nose or be too loose around the ears.

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