We all know that wearing face masks is recommended—in certain states, mandatory—to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
While that remains the case for adults in the United States, the same rules do not apply for young children, who are recommended to forgo donning a mask when out in public.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parents should avoid putting cloth masks on children under the age of two—and the reason for this is not simply because young children seem to be at lower risk of contracting COVID-19. On the contrary, the CDC's recommendation is rooted in the fact that masks can actually prove extremely dangerous for children in such an early stage of life.
"Face masks are not recommended for children below two years old due to a higher risk potential for suffocation," says Eli Gasinu, DO, a board-certified pediatrician in New York City. "Generally, younger infants would be unable to remove a mask or face covering if they were to be experiencing some respiratory compromise."
Not only that, but Leann Poston, MD, a licensed pediatrician with Invigor Medical, says that face masks can also be a choking hazard, as young children might try to "chew on the elastic or ties."
Even if your children are four or five years of age, it's best to use discretion on whether or not you provide them with a mask, says pediatric emergency medicine physician Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, MD.
Why? Because there is a greater chance they won't "tolerate the mask" or understand why it should be worn, she says. This may "increase their desire to touch their face and potentially cause pathogen self-inoculation," adds Gasinu.
What other options are available for protecting young children?
"Parents can instead limit their time in public or use a blanket to cover their child's stroller or car seat when they are out," says Shelli Dry, an occupational therapist and child development expert with Enable My Child.
If your child is old enough to wear a mask, however, and you want to ensure the become more comfortable with the concept of doing so, try "purchasing or decorating them with [your] child's favorite cartoon characters or practicing at home before heading out," suggests Dry.
"[You] can even create a game out of it while out in public, such as seeing how long they can leave the mask on, or counting how many masks they see." And for more ways to protect your children during the pandemic, check out the The One Thing You Shouldn't Let Your Kids Do Amid Coronavirus.