How To Cope With A Kid Who Gets Car Sick


I’ll never forget what happened the first time I took my daughter to Disneyland. I strapped my excited 3-year-old Disney princess into her car seat, careful not to muss her purple Sofia the First ballgown, and set out for what should have been an easy one-hour drive to the happiest place on Earth. Unfortunately, a construction detour on the freeway sent us spiraling around and around and around until I heard telltale retching coughs from the back seat.


“Oh no, baby!” I shouted. “Just hold on! We’re almost there!”

But it was too late. The princess had tossed her cookies (and eggs and fruit) all over her dress and was now sobbing in the backseat. Given that I was still barreling down the freeway at 70 mph with nowhere to pull over, the only way I could think to help her was to whip off my own t-shirt so she could use it to soak up the hot liquid magma. Which is how I arrived at the Mickey and Friends parking structure in my bra.

Kids who get car sick are the absolute worst, and I mean that with all love and respect to my wonderful daughter, who eventually stopped throwing up in the car  after a mere four years and several dozen episodes of spewing forth like Mt. Vesuvius all over my SUV.

But I still have PTSD from these episodes, what with the tears, the clean-up and the smell, which would last for weeks. Driving hardly seemed worth it, so I’d push the stroller two miles to the pediatrician’s office rather than risk another technicolor explosion in the backseat. The exercise was great, but I missed going to Costco, so eventually I had to work out some strategies to minimize the blowback, so to speak.

1. Try to find a pattern. My daughter nearly always blew chunks if we drove on a freeway in the morning after breakfast. The simple solution was to avoid freeways in the morning, but if we had to do it, I would wait at least 30 minutes after she ate before getting into the car, even if that meant setting an alarm so that I could serve an extra early breakfast. Another option is to eat very lightly at home and pack a picnic for later. Kids can still feel nauseous on an empty-ish stomach, but it’s a lot less messy than a full one.

2. Crack a window. Good ventilation and a cool breeze can prevent a mild wave of nauseau from turning into a full blown yak attack.

3. Banish car snacks. We tried to maintain a Water Only rule in the car, because whatever our kid put into her mouth was so likely to come right back out. If snacking is unavoidable, go with something dry and bland like crackers and not blueberries — because they’re blue.

4. Look out, not down. Kids who are prone to motion sickness do best when they’re looking outside at the horizon, not down at their laps, so avoid the temptation to use iPads, books or video games to pass the time. A rousing game of “I Spy” can help keep their eyes on the prize.

5. Pack a sar sick kit. Put the following items in a duffel bag and leave them in your trunk at all times: Spare clothes for the kid. Spare clothes for you (sometimes they HUG you when they’re all verklempt). Package of wet wipes. Roll of paper towels.Trash bag. Spray bottle of Febreze to mask the odor until you can do a deep clean. And keep a beach towel right next to the car seat or booster to wrap them up with before they try to touch you.

6. Follow these steps to clean up the mess in your car. Since sunlight can help with odor and stains, a good first step is to park the vomitous vehicle outdoors with the windows open. Then, grab your spray cleaner of choice and get ready to burn some calories. Depending on how bad the damage is, you may want to remove the car seat and unsnap all the fabric parts. Mine said not to machine wash but I did it anyway with no adverse effects, other than me having zero idea how to reassemble that insanely complicated piece of machinery. YouTube videos are great for that, or you can wuss out like me and pay a professional car seat installer to put it all back together.

The bad news: No one knows exactly how long the car sick phase will last. The good news: eventually your upchucking child will be too big for a car seat, and then it’s the car wash’s problem. Happy driving, mamas.

Photo: Amy Wruble


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