If there's one job you'd gladly surrender to your children, it's extracting the snot from their little noses. But when can you expect them to be able (and willing) to do it?
That depends. Although many kids are developmentally ready to learn to blow their own nose at age 2, some don't succeed until 7 or 8. When your child is ready to learn will depend largely on his willingness to try.
- If your little one shows interest in blowing his nose (such as by imitating you): Encourage him. You can do this by holding a tissue to his nose, telling him to close his mouth, and pretend to blow out birthday candles with his nose. Keep in mind that you want him to blow gently. Forceful nose blowing can cause the mucus in his nose to back up into his middle ear or sinuses, raising the risk of infection.
- If he's not interested: It's important to keep your toddler's nasal passages clear for him if he has a cold so that he'll be comfortable – especially while eating and sleeping. You can do this by putting just a drop of saline solution (available in pharmacies) into each nostril. He'll probably snort or sneeze to clear his nostrils of the solution. If he doesn't, you can follow up by gently suctioning his nose with a rubber bulb syringe or other nasal aspirator device.
Whatever stage your little one is at, here are some more proven methods from parents that can help you teach and encourage this essential skill.
Keep nose blowing fun
"My son and I talk about what's up there being a certain animal. For example, 'Let's get the hippos out of your nose.' We also make a game of it. Sometimes telling him I can blow harder than he can is enough to get him to do it."
"I used to exaggerate the blowing noise through my nose, making it a game to see how loud I could get, and my kids would participate. When cold season came around, and they had to blow, I'd remind them of what I meant by making the blowing noise."
"Tell them to breathe out their nose hard like The Hulk or snort like a bull – use whatever characters or creatures they're into."
"I took a tissue, held it to my nose and did a fake 'achoo!' for my 3-year-old to see. Then he played along and actually blew his nose!"
"We'd tell our daughter to 'scare' us. If we initially got a feeble blow, we'd say it wasn't scary enough and she'd try again!"
Make nose blowing easier for your child
"To help my kids get the concept by age 3, I told them to put their fingers under their nose and tickle them with air from their nose. When they were sick, I told them to do the same thing, but harder, into a tissue. They caught right on."
"My son won't use a tissue because it makes his nose sore after a while, so we use a handkerchief. Old cloth diapers and a small bandana also work. If your child will at least wipe his nose, you're off to a good start."
"When my daughter was 3, she always said 'Mommy, I can't!' when I tried to get her to blow her nose. Once, out of desperation, I told her to 'snort.' It worked! She couldn't 'blow' her nose, but she sure could 'snort!"
"I held a tissue in front of my mouth and blew on it to make it move. Then I did the same thing with my nose. Next, I told my son to do it. There's something about seeing the tissue move that makes it click in their little heads."
Practice makes perfect
"Put a cotton ball on a table and have them blow it across the table with their nose. After they master that, tell them to do the same thing into a tissue."
"What I've done for all my kids is show them how to take a big breath in, mouth wide open, then close their mouth and breathe out through one nostril while plugging the other with their finger. Then repeat for the other side."
"I taught my son how to blow bubbles in the water in the bathtub with his nose. That helped him learn how to blow air out of his nose, and eventually got him to blow his nose into a tissue."
Provide nose-blowing models
"We've taught our 17-month-old by example. He's prone to imitating just about anything we do, so we started by showing him how to blow on dandelions and hot food. Eventually we got him to blow through his nose."
"I tell him to blow his nose like a horn, the way Daddy does."
"One day at the supermarket, I found a box of tissues decorated with Spiderman, my son's favorite character. I bought it and explained to my son that Spiderman was on the box because he prefers to blow his nose. It worked like a charm! If you can't find your child's favorite character, wrap a box in blank paper and add stickers of the character to it. You could even do this activity with your child."
"Telling my kids that blowing their nose will make them more of a 'big girl' or 'big boy' does the trick. When my kids do it, I emphasize how 'big' it makes them. They've always wanted to be like Mom and Dad, so my strategy works!"
Blow your own nose – or else!
"I drew a monster face on a bulb syringe, and if my kids didn't blow, I'd hum the theme from Jaws and come after them with that thing. The chase amused them, but the actual aspiration was so yucky that after only a couple of episodes, all I had to do was start humming the music and off they would dash for a tissue."
"If my daughter didn't blow, I'd take the nose aspirator bulb and do it myself. After feeling how uncomfortable that was, she started blowing her nose. I hold the tissue and tell her 'Go!' If we get a good blow, we cheer."
Visual aids for nose blowing
"My 4-year-old grandson would sniff up instead of blowing out, so I put a handheld mirror in front of his face and showed him the results of blowing out. He loved it! Now he knows the results of blowing out and uses tissues accordingly."
"What helped my preschooler was to stand her in front of a mirror and let her watch as the mucus came out with her blowing. I would cheer and say, 'Look! Here's the booger! Here it comes! Keep blowing!' Then I'd let her wipe it off. She's a lot more cooperative now when I ask her to blow her nose."
"Gross as it is, my 3-year-old daughter will blow her nose every time if I say 'Let's blow your nose and see what comes out.' She's always fascinated by inspecting the tissue afterward, and I think it's a good opportunity to help her understand her body in a very matter-of-fact way."