Kid Questions: Why does it look blue under our skin?

by Deb on November 26, 2009

Actually the question wasn’t anywhere near as coherent as that, it was more along the lines of “Mummy!  Your boobs are blue!”  So here’s a very simple explanation of blood circulation.

Have you seen blood when you cut yourself?  It looks red and it runs a bit like water.  It has a very special job inside you, it carries things around to where they need to go.  So when you eat, the blood gets the food from your tummy where it’s broken up very very small and takes it out to your muscles in your legs and fingers so they have the energy they need to work.


Your body also needs air (oxygen) to help give it energy.  You get this when you breathe through your mouth or nose and into your lungs inside your chest.  Your blood goes through your lungs and picks up the oxygen.  This makes it look red.  It carries the oxygen all around your body to everywhere that needs it, like your arms and your head.  When it gets there, it drops off the oxygen and picks up something else called carbon dioxide that you need to breathe out.  This makes your blood look blue.  It goes back to your lungs to drop off the carbon dioxide and pick up more oxygen through special tubes called veins.  They run close under your skin and you can see them, that’s why your skin looks blue.

hand with veins

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy September 6, 2012 at 8:56 am

This site seems very good, and then…”Mummy! Your boobs are blue” appears. Seriously, this is not appropriate language to publish where kids might be involved in reading or being read to – and it is very clear that this article is meant to be read by/to children. A teacher, particularly a science teacher trained to teach children to use the accurate and specific language of their field, should know better than to put generally derogatory slang out where other people’s kids will encounter it.

Worse: why on earth is a child old enough to articulate such a question looking at their mother’s exposed chest? More than a bit odd for public discussion. Even if it was just a stare at a low-cut blouse, it’s the sort of moment best recalled privately, or within a family, not publicized to the children of the world. It comes across poorly, and definitely creates a negative feel for the site.

A pity, because the site seems otherwise like something I’d like to encourage others to try, but cannot while this sort of thing pops up.


Deb September 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Although I disagree with you, I appreciate the time it takes to comment so I wanted to reply and explain my reasoning.

Firstly, yes the article is meant to be read by or with parents. And parents should be fully capable of altering language if they feel it is appropriate. The only problem would be with a child who is able to read, in which case I would expect that they would have dealt with that type of question long ago so I’m not sure why they would be looking at that page. It’s the type of question pre-schoolers ask, not readers. A child who is searching the internet unsupervised could come across it, but they could also come across much worse – that’s what supervision is for.

As far as the language goes, obviously I think it’s appropriate or I wouldn’t have used it. It is certainly slang, but not all slang is derogatory. In my household and most others I know personally it’s in the same category as tummy or pinkie – not the anatomical name but well known and not a problem. The post is almost three years old and hasn’t caused an uproar, and judging by the common usage in the media I feel others perceive it that way as well, especially when contrasted with other names that are derogatory. Of course different people find different language acceptable, we all draw our own lines. As a writer here I went with the majority, but majorities don’t cover everyone.

We (and everyone else I know) actually use it for the same reason we use tummy – it’s easier for little kids to say. Especially as a teacher, I know how important it is to be developmentally appropriate. Given the date my daughter would have been about 3, possibly 4, when this happened, which is an age when their ability to understand outstrips their ability to control the muscles in their mouths and tongues so a lot of ‘pet names’ are common. (Incidentally, given her age the explanation didn’t go in one smooth paragraph, but had lots of practicing breathing and things like that included. We’ve talked about the second paragraph on blood as a transport system many times before.)

I agree that the issue of nudity is more important than language, but I don’t think you’ll like my reasoning. As I mentioned, my daughter was about 3 and I used to shower her and her younger sister in the evenings. Plus I was breastfeeding at the time, so seeing my breasts was a normal part of everyday life. And that’s what bodies should be. Of course not everyone needs to have the same level of comfort with nudity, it’s another of those personal lines, but it is absolutely vital that children be taught that bodies are not in any way shameful or need to be hidden because of embarrassment.

It not only impacts on self esteem and self acceptance, but is very important for child safety – anything that makes it harder for children to talk about abuse or makes them feel they are in the wrong is dangerous. Protective behaviour teaching is very clear that young children need to know that all parts of their body are safe to discuss and ask questions about, and that they are not responsible for blocking someone else, therefore it’s not their fault if someone else sees or touches them. Parents hiding their bodies is understandable if that’s the way they’ve been raised, but it is not the best way to help and protect our children, and it is not a responsible thing for a site for parents of young children to promote.

This site is for parents, the aim is to model ways they can talk to and things they can do with their children to demystify science specifically and parenting in general. Any sensible parent can take the things I’ve written and done and adapt them to their own family, as they would adapt any other resource. Part of what I model is being matter of fact, even on controversial issues, because science is about the natural world not human foibles.

From a scientific point of view, the post is correct. From a language point of view, it is developmentally appropriate and acceptable to the majority, but not everyone. From the point of view of working with young children, it sets the right tone of how to answer questions about and act around bodies.


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