Thanks to bubble wands and birthday candles, your child is probably much more comfortable blowing air out of her mouth than through her nose. To get her used to the idea, have her blow bubbles under the water during a bath, and then explain that she should apply the same technique when her nose is stuffed up. “You can also gently place a finger over her lips to show her that she can make air come out of her nose too,” suggests Katherine O’Connor, M.D., a mom of three and pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City. But if your kid learns best through play, challenge her to this fun race: Have her move a cotton ball, feather, or little ball of tissue paper across a flat surface as fast as possible—using only her nose! (Be prepared for sprays of snot, so wipe down the surface afterward.)
Now for the tissues: Place one over your child’s nose, and press down on her left nostril while she blows out of her right. Repeat with the other nostril, and then have her try it by herself. You might need to demonstrate with young kids. “Toddlers love to imitate, so they’re more likely to try to use tissues on their own if they see you using them first,” says Rebecca G. Carter, M.D., a mom of two and pediatrician at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, in Baltimore. She also suggests incorporating tissues and pretend sneezing into your arm during playtime.
Take advantage of your kid’s (fleeting!) eagerness to do chores, and give him the “garbage collector” job for a few minutes daily. “Even if he misses the pail when he tosses a wrapper or used napkin, it’ll show him that he can help you in small ways around the house,” says Dr. Carter, who used this strategy successfully on both her kids, ages 1 and 3, soon after they started to walk. When your child does get sick, throwing out his used tissues should be a natural extension of what he already does around the house.
While it’s unfair to assume that a sick kid will always get to the toilet or garbage can in time, the odds are better if you show her where those spots are at home and school. Keep a lined wastebasket next to your child’s bed, and point out that it will always be there in case she wakes up and needs to throw up. But let her know it’s okay if she misses or doesn’t get to the bathroom. “Being sick is hard on the whole family, especially little kids who don’t completely understand what’s going on. This is not the time for strict discipline,” says Dr. Carter.
Explain to your child that just like he tells you when he doesn’t feel well at home, he should do the same at school or on a playdate. He may worry about getting into trouble for interrupting class, but assure him that nothing bad will happen if he raises his hand to alert the teacher to a headache or tummy ache. “Tell your child that by excusing himself from the classroom, he’s actually helping to keep it germ-free and his friends healthy,” says Dr. O’Connor. If you think there’s a chance he might keep quiet at a friend’s house for fear of missing out on a fun activity, remind him that you can schedule another playdate as soon as he feels better.