Sadly, snotty noses are de rigueur for toddlers. “Children under two can have as many as 10 colds in a year, each lasting 10 days. They can be more frequent if they are in daycare or if they have siblings in school, bringing viruses home,” says Dr. Dennis W.S. Kreptul, associate professor at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine. Some parents vigilantly try to keep their kids away from other children with runny noses, others are more chill about it and some daycares have odd rules about whether runny-nosed children can or cannot attend.
Shannon Geil, of Waterloo, Ont., gets very upset when she walks into a playgroup with her 16-month-old son Marcello and sees children with runny noses. “That means at least two weeks of sleepless, whiny nights for me as the infection runs through all three of my kids and likely my husband or me. I empathize with moms who feel they need to get out, but as a working mom, I need to minimize the impact of a cold on my family,” she says, adding that she’ll turn around and walk out with Marcello if she sees an overly snotty child at a playgroup.
Chara Kingston falls into the more relaxed camp, aware that not all runny noses are caused by colds. “It is ridiculous to keep children out of programs because of snot, and besides, they are always snotty from October to June,” says the Halifax mom of a toddler and a six-year-old.
Indeed, runny noses are not always associated with an infection, says Dr. Kreptul. “It may be due to allergies, irritation or even a foreign body. And kids put funny stuff up there sometimes.” However, if the nasal discharge is thick and green, it can be a sign of a viral or bacterial infection, and kids with an infection are best kept home to rest. Unfortunately, toddlers are a social bunch and don’t know to keep their distance, which helps infection spread amongst that age group, says Dr. Kreptul.
Keeping kids with the sniffles home is a nice idea, but what if you need to go to work and your kid has had a runny nose for what seems like forever? Although daycare policies are set by individual centres, licensed facilities receive guidance from their local community services department.
Shelley Thompson, child care centres policy and program development coordinator for the Department of Community Services in Halifax, says children with mild symptoms, like runny noses, are encouraged to attend daycare, so long as they’re well enough to take part in the activities for the day, including playing outside. “Of course, if children are showing more serious symptoms, like a fever, they should stay at home. This is a guideline that licensed child care centres are required to follow,” she says.
But just because green runny noses are fine at daycare, it doesn’t mean that you want your kid to pick up cold number five during playgroup. “I get really peeved with moms who say, ‘Oh it’s just a cold, they’ll get it sooner or later.’ No, actually, we could minimize the spread if you would keep your snotty, gooey kid away from me, my kids and all the communal toys,” says Geil.
So what can you do when there are kids with runny noses close to your cherub? The best ways to keep your child healthy are to simply stop him from sharing toys or having direct contact with the child in question, and wash his hands before and after play.
And if you are the one with the snotty-nosed kid? Give your friends the heads-up before dropping round for a playdate so they can decide whether or not they want to risk their kid getting sick too, and be prepared—your toddler may be the one other parents tell their children to steer clear of at storytime.
By age two, most toddlers are ready to learn how to wipe and blow their noses. A good first step is showing your child just what his runny nose looks like in a mirror so he can see what needs to be cleaned up. Offer a tissue and let him wipe as he watches in the mirror. He’ll also be able to see the tissue move as he blows air and mucus from his nose—gently. Finally, make sure he tosses the tissue in the trash and washes his hands.