Tips for Helping Young Children Adjust to Face Masks for Travel

Is your pandemic baby turning two? Or has it been awhile since you’ve traveled? With constantly changing mask and vaccine requirements, travel seems more stressful than ever… but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a few tips and tricks to help your child wear a face mask when flying. Don’t forget to check out the companion blog post about how to take mask breaks during travel

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Let your child choose the colors/characters/design/style.

Do you know what toddlers love even more than snacks? CONTROL. So let them choose a mask. Heck, let them choose a few so you have extra to carry with you!

Reusable versus disposable. 

We have tried out both types of children’s face masks. My son Gavin, who is three, definitely prefers the disposable masks. He has an easier time breathing and his ears don’t start to ache halfway through the trip. In our experience, the cloth masks tended to be thicker and more difficult to wear for long durations, in addition to having very unforgiving elastic ear bands. I recommend buying both types of masks so you can see which one your child prefers if/when you’re practicing at home. As with all things recommended on the internet, you know your child best. Do whatever works best for you and your child!

We use Dr. Talbot’s Disposable Kid’s Face Masks. The mask itself is soft, and so are the elastic bands. The top of the mask has a little hidden wire so it can be shaped to fit comfortably over your child’s nose however your child prefers.

FYI: You can purchase something called “ear savers” for both adults and children. We haven’t personally tried any, so can’t recommend a specific type or brand. But essentially these products use the back of your head, instead of your ears, to hold the mask in place. My son hates wearing anything on his head (headphones, hats, you name it), so I never bothered trying these. Recommend some in the comments if you’ve tried them and love them!

Explain why we wear masks when we travel.

Some kids, like mine, love to know whyyyyyy. I keep it very simple. “We have to wear the mask if we want to fly on the airplane to go home and see Daddy.” Or, “the mask helps keep our friends safe.” Sometimes I have to bribe with, “You can meet the pilots if you’re wearing your mask.” Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do!

Practice at home. 

Here’s a few ideas for how to practice at home. Remember that you are modeling to your child all the time, every day, in so many ways, not just when it comes to wearing a mask for travel. They retain and process everything. Use this to your advantage when practicing at home by wearing a mask when they practice. 

1. Let your child touch, feel, and explore the masks they’ve picked out. 

2. This may take a few times before they let you try putting it over their face, but, explain what you’re going to do before doing it, and explain how the mask might feel when it touches their ears and face. “Okay, Gavin, I’m going to put the mask over your ears and it might tickle a little. Great job!” Depending on the age of your child, give them some reigns and guide them through how to take their mask on and off.

3. Once they get comfortable having the mask on their face, you can work on the duration. Honestly, starting just a few seconds at a time is great. Tell them what a great job they’re doing or reward them with a special snack or candy. A short TV show or YouTube video is a great place to graduate once they feel more comfortable with the mask on.

4. We always play “pretend airport” for fun, but it’s also a great way to prepare Gavin for an upcoming trip by role playing some helpful reminders about keeping the mask over his nose.

5. Have a tea party or a picnic to practice removing the mask when eating and drinking. Better yet, practice as a family while eating a meal together at home.

6. Have a stuffed animal come along to play pretend airport, or invite them to the tea party or picnic. You can model putting the mask on the stuffed animal, and invite your child to put a mask on an animal too. 

Empathize if/when they’re struggling.

My son is well-versed in mask mandates for travel, but he still doesn’t like wearing them. Two years after the fact and trust me, I don’t really like wearing them either. When kids are having a hard time, empathy is the secret sauce.

When Gavin is upset about having to wear his mask, we find a way to calm down together. I make eye contact with him, sometimes hold his hand, and I tell him, “I know it’s hard to wear your mask. I have a hard time wearing my mask too.” Or, “You don’t want to wear your mask. I understand. Thank you for helping keep our friends on the airplane safe.” Meet your child wherever they are, remain calm, and work through those emotions together.


You and your child are on the same team! You will get through that first flight together, mostly unscathed, and live to tell the tale. No matter what happens, I promise you will have beautiful memories to hold in your heart forever.

Did I miss anything? How did you help or encourage your child to wear a face mask that first time? Tell me every detail in the comments below!

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