Motion sickness or car sickness in young kids is unfortunately as common as it is gross! With one easily motion sick parent and two very easily motion sick kids, we have tested all the theories out there over many years and across many more trips. We have pulled together our top tips on how to prevent and manage motion sickness while traveling with your small children. Don’t let motion sick prone kids keep you from traveling more often with the kids.
Foods to prevent motion sickness
Stick with a bland pre-departure meal; for our kids, a bagel with a little butter is a perfect New York breakfast heading out of town. Not into bagels? We suggest you avoid dairy, greasy foods, super sugary or super salty foods as these naturally can upset little ones stomaches even under perfect conditions. Throughout your trip offer snacks at normal times and don’t push meals too far outside your child’s normal schedule. Being overly hungry can be just as bad for motion sickness as a fast-food meal and a shake.
Fresh and cool air
Crack the windows and breathe in some fresh air throughout your trip (stinky asphalt or truck fumes? back up they go!). More important than fresh air is cool air, don’t let the car get too warm. If your kid is starting to feel nauseous, encourage them to take long slow deep breaths and crank-up the A/C or roll the window down even more. Deep breaths work wonders for our oldest to keep creeping motion sickness at bay for 15-20 minutes. This is usually enough time for us to get to a rest stop or pull-off to give him a 10-minute reset-break.
Take Breaks (but not too long)
Try to get out of the car at least every two hours to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs, reset their nauseous brains, burn some energy, and have a snack. With a car sick kid, heck, for any kid, turning a 5-hour drive into a 10-hour trip is worse than puking on your car seat.
Keep Busy with Activities
Our kids fare best when we can keep them engaged in songs, games, storytelling and listening to podcasts. DO NOT allow your car sick prone child to play with tablets/screens or read books; unless you like such things to be covered in… you know what. For us, this means one adult drives while the other adult assumes the role as full-time entertainment captain. On solo parenting drives, we queue up the podcasts!
Car Seat Logistics
First and foremost consider safety and check-in on the instructions specific to your seat, child’s age, and weight, etc. Wherever you have determined they are safest, aim for looking out the front or back windows as much as possible (that flat horizon line is better than the rapid motion of the side windows. Do NOT turn a rear-facing child forward “early” to reduce car sickness. I have searched and I cannot find any data to support the theory. My kids still puked when I turned them around and especially young toddlers are much safer rear-facing, which data overwhelmingly supports.
Dealing with the Mess of Motion Sickness
Even with the best prevention our oldest and most car-sick prone has an episode or two every single long trip (basically over 20 minutes and the puking is going to happen). There are some helpful clean-up details below that I wouldn’t read while having my lunch.
Listen for Cues
Our oldest starts to cough, our middle starts asking for snacks with a stern persistence that is unlike his usual carefree personality. Which makes sense when you realize that nausea can feel a lot like hunger to a young kid. When these things happen I know its time to spring into duty and get the cup ready. On twisty or bumpy roads I give them a cup at the onset to hang onto in their seat.
Teach them to use a container
We love red solo cups for the occasion. They are opaque so no one has to look at the contents. They are deep enough to hold quite a bit of volume and can be temporarily stored in a side door cup holder until you reach an appropriate trash receptacle. The design makes them easy to hold onto, they are easily available at gas stations should you need to restock mid-trip. Environmentally friendly? Nope, not at all. But I have no interest in reusing any container serving this purpose. We toss a wipe on top for obvious reasons.
Car sickness mess-kit
At all times we have a car sickness mess-kit in the car. Ours contains apack of wipes, stack of solo cups, plastic bags, alcohol-free hand sanitizer (low-odor!), and roll of paper towels. I store the kit in a small reusable grocery bag so there is at least one eco-friendly zero-waste element of this messy operation.
We also pack extra easily accessible outfits and their travel water cups. Confession time, I didn’t always pack extra outfits. In the photo above I was indeed scrubbing banana out of the straps, but Mike wasn’t getting an outfit right out of the car, he was running across the parking lot to an Old Navy.
Medication and Essential Oils for Motion Sickness
Over the Counter Motion Sickness Medicines
If your child’s motion sickness is severe, consult with your doctor about over the counter medications or other treatments. When our oldest was just over two his motion sickness was at its peak (5-7 episodes during a 2-hour drive). We knew we needed to try something new when he began to cry hysterically whenever we pulled his car seat down from our loft (before we owned a car). We worked with our pediatrician to identify a low-dose medication to take the edge off of his nausea without knocking him out and it worked wonders for those really tough years.
My mom and aunt were preaching essential oils long before they launched mainstream and became a MLM hot ticket. And while popularity is on the rise, we will confess we are totally bought in because they work!
We aren’t pros here, but spring for organic and higher quality oils. You want to ensure you properly dilute them for young children and common sense here, don’t roll on the hands or wrist of a kid who might lick it off and always test things out at home before you hit the road.
Lavender is my personal favorite smell, we all find it relaxing. Possibly because I have used it around the house since before the kids were born, it smells like “home”. A small cotton ball of lavender in the car will relax away tension and stress which is a great start to a puke-free ride.
Any pregnant momma who had dreaded nausea knows the power of a little peppermint. Candies work well for older kiddos, but save the sugar and choking hazard with a little peppermint oil on each wrist.
We love ginger and while ginger chews are also great for older kiddos, ginger oil is another great tummy relaxer for little ones.
Hang in there. This too shall pass.