Children love potty humor. Although no one wants their kids to shout PEE or POOP in the middle of a restaurant, if your child is fixated on boogers, belching and bad breath, you can use this as an opportunity to discuss how the body works.
I know this because I’m a pediatrician, and a father. I often use potty humor to explain things to my young patients, sometimes as their parents look on in shock. But guess what? The kids remember when I tell them about why they have something called flatulence. And I hope I’m giving their parents, who are often so attuned to telling them to be proper and behave, an excuse to have a little fun, too.
Always here to help, here are some gross facts and ways to explain the body’s inner workings from my new book, “The Fantastic Body.”
Remember, parents, it’s not actually gross, it’s the amazing body. Here’s how you can explain a few things to your kids.
The super sneeze
Sneezing is a reflex that propels mucus and foreign objects out of the nose. When you sneeze, air and thousands of tiny mucus droplets shoot out of your nostrils really fast and can travel from 3 to 25 feet through the air. Any germs surfing on the sneeze could land on other people and make them sick. That’s why you should tuck your nose into the crook of your elbow whenever you sneeze or cough.
The human body is loaded with glands. Some produce tears. Some produce sweat. Some produce oil. Your mouth has six large glands and hundreds of tiny glands that make saliva. Although kids may think the purpose of saliva is to have spitting contests with their friends, it actually has more important things to do. Saliva keeps your oral tissues moist, mixes with food to make it taste better and easier to swallow, and contains germ-fighting chemicals (antibodies) to help prevent tooth decay and other infections in your mouth.
Your mouth is home to billions of “good” bacteria. These microscopic organisms don’t make you sick, but they live on your teeth, cheeks, tongue and every other structure in your mouth. Since you don’t eat or drink when you sleep, huge numbers of bacteria that would normally be washed down your throat have the opportunity to “party till dawn.” As these bacteria reproduce, they foul the air around them – and inside you. The waste products they produce are what cause super-bad morning breath.
To burp or not to burp
When you swallow, small amounts of air get into your stomach along with whatever you’ve been eating and drinking. Air is lighter than water, so it rises to the top as your stomach busily churns away. As the pressure increases in your stomach, the bottom end of the esophagus briefly opens, letting the air escape. When this occurs, a BURRRRP will echo through the room. Burping is an important part of digestion. If you weren’t able to burp, your stomach could become bloated, which can cause gas pains. That’s why babies get fussy and stop drinking unless they are burped during a feeding.
Who cut the cheese?
Not all of the air you swallow exits your body as a burp. Some of it continues on to the last part of your intestinal tract. There are trillions of bacteria in your large intestine. These microscopic creatures are part of the human microbiome that’s discussed a lot these days. In addition to helping digest food, these bacteria produce gases that add to the swallowed air that’s already in your intestines. Farts are made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen sulfide. Most are odorless, but hydrogen sulfide packs a wallop. This is the chemical that gives farts their rotten-egg smell. The average person farts 15 times per day. Most people keep farts to themselves, but some kids (of all ages) like to share them with friends and family.
Here a smell, there a smell
Have you ever noticed that an unwashed 16-year-old smells much worse than an unwashed 6-year-old? There is a reason for this. People have two types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands work at all ages. Apocrine glands don’t start working until a child hits puberty. The types of bacteria that produce raunchy body odor love to feast on the sweat produced by apocrine glands. That’s why a stinky fourth-grader smells like dirt and a stinky 10th-grader smells like a locker room.
Grossness in books
Many children’s authors use humor and “grossology” to keep readers glued to the page. The Captain Underpants books are filled with gross humor. Others, like “The BFG” (Big Friendly Giant), use humor and gross imagery more selectively to keep kids interested. Roald Dahl does this in the BFG by creating a drink called frobscottle that has a side effect of producing whizzpoppers: farts that lift a person into the air. So the next time your child farts at the dinner table, use that as an opportunity to discuss digestion – or the BFG. (See? It’s a win-win.)
Howard Bennett is a Washington pediatrician and the author of “The Fantastic Body: What Makes You Tick & How You Get Sick” and other books for children. His website is howardjbennett.com.
In his new book, “The Fantastic Body,” pediatrician Howard Bennett explains the body’s inner workings for kids. MUST CREDIT: Rodale Kids.