Why do kids eat boogers?

Boy picking nose at desk
Believe it or not, the composition of boogers may actually taste sweet to kids.

Your little angel takes the stage, and you instantly forget all the sleepless nights, spit-covered lapels and tantrums that brought you to this moment. As she lines up with the rest of her preschool class for a long-awaited choir performance, she spots you and waves. You go weak in the knees. Has there ever been a child more adorable? You are certain there has not. Time stands still as you note her talent, beauty and charm. Then your sweet darling sticks her index finger up her left nostril, digs around, pulls out a prize -- and eats it.

Why do kids eat their boogers? For starters, they don't have a firm handle on social skills that would otherwise prevent them from doing so. Part of their socialization is learning what's acceptable behavior and what isn't. Many of these lessons, they'll learn from parents. Others, they'll learn from teachers. And even more, they'll learn from other children they spend time with.


It's entirely possible that if one child at preschool habitually picks her nose without shame, other children will join in. Of course, it's also just as likely the nose-picking child will gross out her counterparts (especially if she is among older children) and relegate her nose picking to private -- if she continues to do it at all.

A child's interest in picking his nose may have something to do with the composition of the boogers themselves. Scott Napper, a biochemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan, theorizes that boogers, whose makeup are slightly sweet, may actually taste good to kids. More to the point, he believes that if children pick their noses and eat their boogers, they may actually be revving their immune systems in the process. According to Napper, children who eat boogers may have a physical advantage. Besides, he posits, the body continually makes nasal secretions and everyone, even adults, swallows these secretions. Eating them via nose retrieval is simply a different delivery method. As of 2013, however, his theory remains untested [source: Jaslow].

Nose picking isn't only for children. A population survey about nose picking revealed that almost all adults do it to a varying degree. Scientists who have studied obsessive nose picking, known as rhinotillexomania, have found it difficult to determine the threshold between "normal" nose picking and nose picking that crosses the line. What they do know is that it's a common obsessive disorder that, if overdone, can result in infections, nosebleeds and damage to the nostrils [source: Jefferson].

So, while it's completely normal -- and potentially beneficial -- for a child to eat his or her boogers, doing so excessively may signal a need for intervention. First, identify whether your child has allergies that could be causing an excess of mucus or if the nasal passages are actually dry and itchy. If he feels like there's always something in his nose, it's only natural to want to remove it. If nose picking has become a habit, try to replace it with another habit. Keep little hands busy with finger puppets, a stuffed animal or a ball. And, most of all, don't worry -- children tend to outgrow nose picking with age [source: Haiken].


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Related Articles

  • Jaslow, Ryan. "Eating Boogers May Boost Immunity, Scientist Suspects." CBS News. May 1, 2013. (Oct. 10, 2014) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/eating-boogers-may-boost-immunity-scientist-suspects/
  • Jefferson, J.W. "Rhinotillexomania: Psychiatric Disorder or Habit?" Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Feb. 1995. (Oct. 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7852253
  • Haiken, Beth. "Nose Picking: How to Nip It In the Bud." 2014. (Oct. 10, 2014)
  • Haiken, Beth. "Nose Picking: How to Nip It In the Bud." 2014. (Oct. 10, 2014) http://www.babycenter.com/0_nose-picking-how-to-nip-it-in-the-bud_63604.bc