When we talk about smell, otherwise known as "olfaction," we are referring to the sense expressed through our nasal membranes into the cortex. Eventually, with experience, we come to appreciate scents as familiar, pleasant, intriguing, calming or just plain gross. Taste, otherwise known as our gustatory sense, provides basic information on tasting salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Taste and smell together create flavor, far more complex than taste alone. This is because as you chew, air is pushed up through your nasal passages, combining with the tastes on your tongue.
Kids with a healthy and functional olfactory system can process most smells without adverse reactions such as tantrums or having to leave a restaurant. Like other senses, they adapt to the smell and eventually it becomes less noticeable to them. A normal olfactory system doesn't crave smelling all objects. Smells like strong chemicals are a natural deterrent to a dangerous action such as mistaking a cleaner for water and drinking it. Foods are inherently appealing based on their smells and the scents of people or animals are mostly not perceived as noxious. Genetics play a role in how tastes are perceived. Don't expect everyone to have the same fondness for blue cheese that you have, everyone's tastes are highly individual.
Here are some great tips for encouraging healthy taste and smell senses:
- Play a matching game with scents! Kids close their eyes and you place a smell under their nose. It could be vanilla, cinnamon or even your dog! See what they can identify and whether they think it smells good or not so good.
- Cook with your child. Let them smell all the spices you are using. Let them "taste" during preparation. This is a great way to develop healthy eating habits as well.
- Some research has pointed to the use of the following scents to boost mood and promote calm: Lemon, Lavender and Jasmine. Essential oils are a good way to introduce these scents. However, essential oils are quite powerful. Do a little research beforehand so you know how much to use.
- Rosemary, cinnamon, and peppermint are often suggested as "pick me up" scents to help with becoming more alert. Again, if using essential oils, use caution with how much to use.
- Talk about how things taste. Is it sweet? Is it bitter?
Have fun exploring these senses with your growing child! We will discuss oral motor development in a coming post.