Can Kids Be Taught to Blow Their Noses?

Can kids be taught to blow their noses? To a lot of parents, it doesn’t seem possible. You tell kids to blow, instead, they sniff. You refine the message and tell them to blow the air out. But they continue to suck air in.

Learning how to blow your nose doesn’t seem like rocket science to us adults, but kids just don’t seem to get it. That is until they do. Which would be some time way into the future, like when they’re nine or ten. Their noses, meantime, are always running, running, running all the time. Especially in winter.

Nose-Blowing Broken Down

Why is it so difficult for kids to learn something that is second nature to us, as adults? Why can’t kids seem to learn how to blow their noses? It seems that blowing your nose is far more complicated than one might have suspected. Some of this is about body awareness or interoception, something that needs time to develop, while the rest is a combination of motor skills and executive function (planning and organization). It can help to break it all down into steps. In order to blow your nose you need to be able to

  1. Sense that your nose is full
  2. Understand that the nasal mucus needs to be expelled (pushed out) rather than sniffed back in
  3. Position the tissue so that it is held spread open in front of your nose (it’s tricky when you’re little)
  4. Blow with your nose, and not with your mouth (these get confused in small people)
  5. Know when enough mucus has been cleared from the nose (so you know when to stop!)
Little boy positions tissue for nose blowing
It’s hard to position the tissue just so.

That’s a lot to know. Now kids are born knowing how to do all kinds of things. They can suck, blink, and stretch. But they aren’t born knowing how to blow their noses. It’s something that must be learned, and that takes time and practice.

How much time? Most children learn how to blow their noses by the age of five. Others figure it out much earlier, before they turn three.

When should you begin to teach your child to blow their nose? Most parents begin the teaching process when the child is around two and a half year’s old. Expect the process to take a long time, maybe even years. When it comes to teaching children how to blow their noses, patience is the name of the game.

Even when you hold the tissue for them, they don’t always blow. Instead they sniff!

Tips! Teaching Kids to Blow Their Noses

Girl tries to blow out instead of in
She’s got the tissue-holding thing going on just right. But she can’t make the boogers go out.

Here are some tips on how to teach children to blow their noses:

  • Practice when the child is well. It’s easier to teach kids about taking in and blowing out air when they aren’t already congested and dealing with a runny or stuffed nose. Of course, this is easier said than done, since many children seem to have colds all winter long.
  • Begin nose-blowing training with the mouth. Place a tissue in front of your mouth and blow, as your child watches on. The child will see the tissue move. Now have the child do the same. Next, hold the tissue from above, in front of your nose, and blow air out of your nose at the tissue to make it move. Have your child try to do the same. (It’s not so easy.)
  • Fun with cotton balls. When tissue gets boring, switch it out for cotton balls. Place a cotton ball on the table, and have your child blow it across the table with her mouth. Then have her begin again, this time holding one nostril closed and blowing air through the other to make the cotton ball reach the end of the table. The two of you can set up a race, to see who can get the cotton ball to the end of the table and back first, using only the air from your respective nostrils.
  • Practice in the tub. Challenge your child to blow bubbles into the bathtub with her nose. Show her how you do it, holding one nostril closed. Then let her try. When kids are successful, the noises they make will delight them. Children don’t like getting water up their noses, so they tend to be quick in mastering the technique.
  • Make fog on a mirror. Show your child how you hold one nostril closed and blow air onto a mirror to make fog. Now let her give it a try.
Little girl tries to blow her nose
At a certain point, no matter what you say, they always seem to suck mucus back in, instead of blowing out.

After your child has experimented in all these ways, she will have developed the skills she needs to try blowing her nose once more. Make sure you praise your child for trying, even if she doesn’t succeed. Be confident that your child will, in fact, master “Nose-Blowing 101,” if not now, then at some point in the not-too-distant future.

It’ll happen sooner than you suspect. It just takes patience, time, and lots and lots of practice.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Smarter Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

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