Boogers!

Preschoolers don't yet have the manners to control their urge to pick

Anne Chase* was reading a bedtime story to her sons, ages five and eight. Five-year-old Sam starting digging in his nose. “I offered to get him a tissue,” Chase says, “but he put it in his mouth, and when I said, ‘That’s yucky. Boogers are not for eating,’ he looked at me and said, ‘Yum.’”

The situation wasn’t improved, Chase adds, when her eight-year-old started to laugh at his mom’s reaction. “Now they think it’s a big joke to make Mom gag by putting boogers in their mouth and talking about how good they taste. Boys are gross.”

It’s not just boys. Plenty of preschool girls pick their noses and if they aren’t eating what they find, they may wipe their hands on walls, their hair, their clothes, the furniture.… I’ve even had my three-year-old granddaughter, Callista, say to me: “Here, Grandma, boogers.” Um, nope, no thank you.

Is there a way to minimize this unappealing habit?

Fabian Gorodzinsky, a paediatrician in London, Ont., says when young children feel their nose is itchy, irritated or blocked, picking at it is a natural reaction. “They don’t have the social graces to handle this in a more acceptable way,” he explains.

*Names changed by request.

He lists three common causes:

Allergies, which tend to make the nose itchy and stuffed up.

An object (such as a pea) stuck in the nose, which irritates surrounding tissues. If you think this may be the case, have your doctor check it out.

A cold or virus, especially if nasal secretions have become dry and hard.

“Adults pick their noses, too,” Gorodzinsky points out, “and for the same reasons — although we’re less likely to stick peas up our noses. We just do it in private and use a tissue. So your task as a parent is to teach when and where this is acceptable.”

Try these steps to minimize health risks and grossing-out of others:

• Don’t get angry — offer help. You can say “Something’s bothering your nose. Here’s a tissue you can use.”

• If your child’s nose is irritated due to dried mucus, give extra fluids and try a vaporizer, or try wiping his nose with a warm, damp cloth.

• Remind your child to wash his hands after picking his nose, just as he does after he uses the toilet.

• Point out that seeing people pick their noses bothers other people, and ask him to please do it in the bathroom — where it will also be easy for him to wash his hands afterward.

And what about when kids eat their “findings”? Although he agrees that it’s disgusting, Gorodzinsky says it’s harmless and won’t make them sick. So strike out that reason to get them to stop. You’ll just have to go with “because it’s gross” and hope that no older siblings are around to egg them on.