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Health & Safety

What to Do If Your Kid Gets Carsick

Barfer on board?

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Growing up, I was a carsick kid. Head-in-hand, I would beg my parents to pull over throughout any and all road trips. So, it’s only fair that I now have a kid who also gets carsick. The very thought of a long drive elicits nausea in him and I've literally caught his vomit in my hands over the years. I’ve carried him to an off-the-highway strip mall to buy fresh clothes, and I’ve baby-wiped him in numerous parking lots while he was half-naked and crying. If you know where I'm coming from or worry this might be in your future, here's what you can do to minimize the chances of on-the-road discomfort:

1. Prep the car. If your child is prone to carsickness, keep a sturdy bag or bucket within your child’s reach. Also, stash a bin with just-in-case items like a washcloth, towel, baby wipes, and a roll of paper towels. “It’s always a good idea to keep a change of clothes in the car—shirt, pants, socks, shoes. You might need them all,” says family physician Rallie McAllister, M.D., MPH, co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Surviving Morning Sickness.

2. Have remedies ready. Try a few kid-safe methods for keeping car queasiness at bay. Sea Bands, which put pressure on specific points on the wrists, can often help alleviate nausea. “Ginger is also an excellent remedy,” says Dr. McAllister. “While the root of the plant is most effective, simply use what kids will like, such as ginger ale, ginger candy, or ginger gum.” Just be sure to pick products that contain real ginger and not artificial ginger flavoring. Another option is Queasy Pops Kids. “They’re formulated with specific essential oils that are known to soothe the stomach,” Dr. McAllister says.

3. Snack smart. While traveling on an empty tummy may seem smart (less to puke up!), it’s not. Instead, offer your kid a small, low-fat meal before you set out on your journey—and then have your child stay hydrated and snacking lightly on bland food like saltines or pretzels every couple of hours while en route. “This assures that low blood sugar and fluid levels won’t contribute to any sense of nausea or a headache, which are signs that could snowball into a full blown episode of car sickness,” says David Pollack, M.D., senior physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

4. Reposition the car seat. If possible, put your child’s car seat in the middle of the back seat to better see out the window. Motion sickness is caused by a disconnect between what the eyes see and what the body feels. “So, when a child can’t see clearly out the car windows, his inner ear senses the car hurtling forward but his eyes don’t see any corresponding movement—which causes a disconnect in the brain,” Dr. McAllister explains. That disconnect can bring on the nausea. Plus, there’s usually less movement in the middle seat, which can help.

5. Embrace the radio. When a child’s eyes are focused on a shaky toy, iPad, or book, this can disorient his sensory connections and make him sick. A better way to keep the carsick-prone entertained is by playing music, singing, or doing an activity like "I Spy," which encourages kids to their eyes focused on the scenery outside the car windows.

6. Tune into clues. Carsickness isn’t always about feeling nauseated. “If your child complains of abdominal pain, dizziness, or headaches, these can be early signs that motion sickness is setting in,” Dr. Pollack says. Other signs include if your kid turns pale, starts yawning, or becomes agitated.

7. Alter the environment. If queasiness kicks in, and you are unable to pull over for some fresh air, encourage deep belly breathing. At the same time, have your child close his eyes while putting something cool—like a soft ice pack—across his forehead for several minutes, Dr. Pollack advises.

8. Quell your child's guilt. You know what made my son’s in-car puking even sadder? When he'd apologize for getting sick. (Heart. Breaking.) “If your child starts to feel anxiety about feeling ill, it will only make the symptoms worse,” Dr. McAllister says. The key is for parents not to make a big deal about it and for the child to feel relaxed about car rides. “I recommend having your child do some deep belly breathing to relieve stress before the trip,” says Dr. Trachtenberg.