Teaching Your Child to Tolerate Wearing a Mask: Tips and Guidelines

Child wearing mask

If you feel your child may benefit from a less formal approach, follow these general desensitizing guidelines. Some children, especially those with special needs, require a more formal plan or protocol (see below). Remember to REINFORCE your child (see below)! If your child is NOT successful using these guidelines, or you are unable to get your child to put on the mask at all, please see the section below on implementing more formal protocols.

General Desensitizing Guidelines

  • Allow your child to choose their own material or mask
  • Allow you child to interact with the mask in comfortable environment
  • Encourage your child to wear the mask for very short periods of time and multiple times per day
  • Determine any areas of discomfort and make adjustments
  • Increase amount of time and number of times per day
  • Continue to increase amount of time every few days as tolerated by following the Reinforcement tips below.

Guidelines to Implementing a Structured Protocol

If the general desensitizing guidelines above are not successful your child may require a structured protocol to desensitize them to wearing a mask.

Establish a Starting Point (Baseline)

  • Correctly place the mask on your child and time how long your child wears the mask. Once your child removes the mask or adjusts it in a way that it is no longer correctly on their face, stop the timer.
    • Timers on phones work fine, but if you don’t have access to a cellphone or timer, mark what time you started using any clock and then mark the time when they removed the mask.
    • If your child refuses to put on the mask or immediately takes it off, place the mask near your child and record how long they will tolerate the mask near them. Once your child moves away from the mask or moves the mask away from them, stop the timer.
  • During this baseline phase do NOT verbally reinforce (i.e. great job wearing your mask) or provide reinforcement items (i.e. snacks, iPad). These will come later, after you begin working on increasing their ability to wear or tolerate the mask.
  • Once you have determined the length of time your child can tolerate the mask, then follow the reinforcement steps below to increase the time your child tolerates putting the mask on/having it near them.


Regardless of your approach, it is important to determine a reinforcer
motivating enough for your child to want to work towards in return for
tolerating the mask. Here are some general guidelines about using
reinforcement effectively at home.

Reinforcement can be tangible (i.e. iPad, video games, television) or edible (i.e. preferred snacks). Being able to remove the mask may be reinforcing enough by itself!

  • If possible, whatever reinforcement is the most highly preferred, try to use that reinforcer specifically for mask tolerance only. This may not always be necessary for each child.
  • Set your timer. While your child is wearing the mask or allowing it to be near them, provide periodic verbal praise and reminders to them about what they are working for to help motivate them to keep going.
    • “You are doing a great job wearing your mask!”
    • “Remember if you keep wearing your mask, you can get the iPad!”
  • Once the timer expires, if your child wore or tolerated the mask for the set amount of time, praise them and give them their earned prize.
    • “I love how you kept your mask on, you can have the iPad now!”
  • If your child was unable to keep the mask on or tolerate it for the set amount of time, you can still provide them with verbal praise; however, withhold the reinforcer until a successful trial is completed.
    • “I love how you wore your mask, but remember we need to keep it on longer if you want the iPad. Let’s try again!”
    • You may need to lower the timer to help them become successful.

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