Ask Ada: Argh! How Do I Get My Kids To Wear Their Masks?

Plus: what can I do if I think one of my family members if getting sick during lockdown?

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How To Get My Kids To Wear Masks?

Dear Ada,

Now that businesses are reopening, I’m trying to take as many precautions as possible to protect my family, but one issue I’m coming up against is getting my children to wear masks. I feel powerless. I’ve only tried to get them to put them on a couple of times, but none of my kids would wear them. We’ll never be able to leave the house if I can’t get my kids to keep these on! I’m so worried about our health and we’ve been so strict with distancing for so long. How can I get my kids to wear the masks so we can be safe?

There are two ways to get children (over the age of two) to wear a face mask: fun or enforcement.

But, before we dive in, let’s talk about why they may be hesitant. Depending on how they’re introduced, children may be fearful, for many reasons, of masks. And younger children may even have difficulty recognizing the people behind the mask — even if they know them well.

To mitigate their anxiety, lead your children by treating the masks as something that is fun, cool, or helpful. Your children will follow your lead. If they feel your frustration or anxiety regarding wearing one, they too will feel the same way.

Not sure how to make a mask “cool” or “fun”? For younger children, watch shows or read books that have characters wearing masks. PJ Masks, Ninjago, and Power Rangers are just a few examples. Then, play “dress up”: throw a superhero costume and a cloth mask on and show your children that they too can be like their favorite characters. 

Have even younger children? Involve their toys. Put masks on their stuffed animals and play imaginative games about keeping each other safe by wearing their mask.

Involve their toys. Put masks on their stuffed animals and play imaginative games about keeping each other safe by wearing their mask.

Do your kids think masks aren’t “cool”? Think again! Model mask-wearing by putting it on in the home or in your yard from time to time. This will give your children a chance to get used to seeing masked faces. And again, if they see you having a positive attitude while wearing a mask, they’ll learn that it’s not a bad thing.

You’ll also want to talk to them about why you’re wearing masks. Explain that you’re doing so not only to protect yourselves, but to help protect your neighbors, friends, family, and even the people you don’t know, but may come in contact to. Talk about how it is an act of service, and tell your children how proud you are of them for protecting themselves and others by wearing their masks.

You may have older children who won’t be swayed by cartoon characters or your own modeling. This older group may truly worry about the uncool factor of masks. For them, your best bet is to set clear expectations. 

Again, explain to them why wearing the mask is important, but beyond that, make it known that you expect that they’ll always be wearing their masks when they are out of your home — whether they are with or without you — and that there will be consequences if they choose not to do so. It’s then your responsibility to enforce these rules with them.

Besides these practical suggestions, consider this a moment for a mindset adjustment for you. Parents worry about how their children will respond to new things, but then children prove time after time just how resilient and adaptable they are. So long as you frame the masks in a positive light and educate your children on the good they’re doing by wearing the masks, they’ll be comfortable wearing the masks when you all leave home.

I’m Worried A Family Member May Be Getting Sick In Quarantine

Dear Ada,

My mother-in-law has been dealing with various health conditions for the past few years. We’ve seen her much less this year since we’ve been actively socially distancing to preserve her health, but with very little cases in our whole county, we recently decided to have a socially-distanced picnic in her yard. 

I couldn’t believe it when I saw her. She looks so sick to me! My husband says I’m being crazy, but I think he doesn’t want to admit it to himself. Something is wrong. She lost a significant amount of weight and her skin is ashen looking. I didn’t say anything to her that night because she has a terrible self-confidence issue, so I didn’t want to insult her, but my gut tells me something is drastically wrong with her. How can I bring this up to her without crushing her self image?

It doesn’t sound like your mother-in-law’s original health conditions were a secret, so I suggest speaking up now. If her health is truly rapidly declining, there’s no time to waste.

Ideally, you’d have your husband on board for this, but are there any other family members that could be your allies here? Maybe her spouse or a sibling-in-law? You obviously don’t need to schedule an “intervention”, but she may be more apt to take charge of her health if she’s aware that you’re all worried and available to support her.

When you do reach out, even if it’s all by yourself, you don’t have to point out the exact changes you’ve noticed in her body, but you should let her know that you’re worried about her physical health. If you’re nervous about starting the conversation, consider leading with a question. Try something like “How have you been feeling?” or “Have any of your doctor’s appointments been cancelled because of the coronavirus?” Then, continue to ask leading questions until you feel comfortable enough to let her know that you’re worried and you’d like to support her in any way that you can.

You’ll also want to prepare yourself emotionally for this conversation. Your mother-in-law may share with you difficult news.

Being direct is another option. Tell your mother-in-law that you noticed a significant weight loss when you visited, and you’re worried that it might be related to her health. Ask her if she needs help scheduling or being transported to her doctor’s appointments. Tell her you’re there to support her in any way possible.

You’ll also want to prepare yourself emotionally for this conversation. Your mother-in-law may share with you difficult news. Maybe she’s aware of a serious illness and she hasn’t wanted to “bother” anyone with the news. Maybe she just wants to live with her illness peacefully without being in the spotlight. And maybe, she just might ignore your concerns and nothing will come from this conversation. 

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.