Boogie Talk: Occupational Therapist Tips on Teaching Kids to Blow Their Nose
Kids aren’t born knowing how to blow their nose. In fact, it’s not uncommon in therapy centers, elementary school classrooms, playgrounds, and doctor’s offices to see kids with runny, booger-y noses that need blowing. It can be an especially tough skill for kids to master if they have sensory, fine motor, and executive functioning struggles. Fortunately, a FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapist is here with tips to teach your little one the art of nose blowing.
Blowing your nose is a functional life skill – one that is especially important in a society that is increasingly hyper-vigilant about reducing the spread of germs and communicable illnesses.
Although many of us think about “blowing your nose” as a singular task, a Fort Myers occupational therapist can explain that there are actually numerous steps to being able to execute this skill – some more complex than others. When we break down the act into each of its most basic parts, it’s easier to recognize why kids might struggle with it.
Every time a person blows their nose, they must:
- Know that their nose is stuffy. This takes the interoception bodily awareness skills.
- Know to blow the boogers out, rather than sniffing them back up into their nose. This again is an interoceptive skill that requires bodily awareness.
- Hold the tissue at their nose without merely crumpling it up. This requires fine motor skills.
- Blow the air through their nose – (but keep your mouth closed)! This requires oral motor skills.
- Press one nostril down while blowing out the other. This requires both fine motor skills, as well as interoception.
- Be able to recognize when all the boogers have been successfully removed from the nose. This, again, is an interoception skill.
- Know how to carefully handle the messy tissue without spreading germs to others. This is both tactile skills as well as fine motor skills.
- Wash your hands after throwing away the tissue. This requires a number of skills, including executive functioning, problem-solving, sensory-processing, and fine motor skills.
On top of all this, kids are often expected to manage this self-care task while also still remaining engaged – or quickly becoming re-engaged – in whatever social event, learning, or other task they were doing before they realized they needed to blow their nose.
As your occupational therapist can tell you, this can be especially tough for kids with olfactory sensitivities, as they may often breathe through their mouth by default – which makes nose-blowing difficult.
Further, a child who struggles with interoception/bodily awareness, they may struggle to know when their nose is running, full, or stuffed. They may not realize after they blow their nose that they have a booger stuck to their face.
A child who has trouble with executive functioning may not realize that if they don’t stop what they’re doing in class to blow their nose, they’ll end up with a messy/runny nose – a situation that can lead to social awkwardness, as well as the spread of germs.
We recommend using unscented tissues, for starters.
Beyond that, there are a number of nose-breathing exercises we can do in our OT sessions (and that you can do at home) to help kids learn/practice breathing out of their nose. Some nose-blowing exercises:
- Teach nose-blowing before a child gets sick. Often parents don’t prioritize nose-blowing if there is no stuffiness or congestion because, well, we don’t really think about it when it’s not an issue. But if a child is learning to blow their nose when they’re all stuffed up or already have a runny nose, the experience of trying to breathe while holding their mouth shut and blowing out of their nose can be super frustrating and overwhelming. Try practicing when a child isn’t sick.
- Practice nose-blowing with the mouth (to start). Show them how blowing air out of their mouth moves the tissue. Then we can move to “using our wind power” to move the tissue with nose air.
- Use water. Teach a child to practice blowing air through their nose (alternating nostrils) to see how their “wind power” can cause ripples to move across the water.
- Use a small, crumpled-up tissue piece or cotton ball. Give them a short straw they can put up to their nose to have them hold one nostril down while they use the other to engage in a “cotton ball race.”
- Use a mirror. With a small mirror, ask the child to pinch one of their nostrils and blow air from their nose onto the mirror. Observe the condensation that builds up from their “wind power.”
- Overexaggerate. The breathing, the closing mouth, the blowing through the nose without a tissue – make it super-exaggerated to make your point. Turn into a game like Simon Says to help them learn to copy skills like taking deep breaths, holding our deep breaths in, closing their mouth, and blowing through their nose.
- Teach your child about the spread of germs. Sometimes spending a little extra time to help kids understand why we’re trying to help them learn this skill can go a long way. Your Fort Myers occupational therapist can help by creating a nose-blowing social story – both to explain germs as well as all the steps needed to know when/how to blow our nose.
Remember, these skills aren’t likely to be mastered overnight. But with practice – your child WILL succeed! If you try these tips and still find your kid is struggling, our occupational therapy team at FOCUS Therapy can develop a strategy specific to your child to help them overcome whatever specific element of the task they’re finding especially difficult.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
How to Teach Your Kid to Blow His Nose, January 14, 202, By Aleksandra Weber, Parents.com
More Blog Entries:
Tantrum or Sensory Meltdown? Fort Myers ABA Therapists Explain, July 31, 2022, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Blog