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Plan Ahead to Help Your Carsick Kid

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Summer is here and families are on the move. When it comes to road trips, it’s easy to get stressed about packing everything your family will need. Those parents who have carsick-prone kids may come to dread the additional preparation needed to keep the family road trip from becoming a fiasco.

Related: Top Tips for Road Trips With Baby

There is a lot of information out there on motion sickness, and wading through it all can be enough to put most parents off of taking long car treks. We spoke with Dr. Charles M. Bower, chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, to help parents understand carsickness and how to treat it.

Understanding Motion Sickness

Carsickness is a form of motion sickness. “It happens when there is a mismatch of input to the brain,” Bower said. When the motion-sensing parts of the body (inner ears, eyes and nerves in the extremities) sense motion, but your eyes and joints do not, the brain receives conflicting signals and activates a response that can make you sick, he said. In a car, the same thing can happen when a child is sitting so low in the backseat that she cannot see outside. Her inner ear senses the motion, but her eyes and joints do not.

Is There a Cure?

There is no medical solution for the condition, but the good news is that most children grow out of it, he said. “Babies don’t get carsick – you don’t usually see it until they’re about 2. It tends to peak in kids ages 4-5, but almost all [children] grow out of it by their teens,” Bower said. Taking frequent short rides leading up to your road trip can desensitize the effects and help your child adapt to longer rides in the car.

Be Prepared

Parents should be prepared for carsickness. “That includes planning for extra time to make stops along the way,” he said. Packing extra clothing, cold washcloths and light snacks are key. Often times, little ones give us no warning before sickness strikes, so always be ready for the possibility of unannounced activity from the backseat.

Travel Tips

  • Plan to travel during naptime: If your schedule permits (and your child is known to sleep in the car), consider syncing travel time with naptime. You can also leave early or late, during times when your child is usually sleeping.
  • Give them a new view: Consider moving your child’s safety seat to the middle seat, if it can be done safely and is in line with your car’s and car seat’s safety protocols.
  • Ditch electronic devices: If you can, keep your kids looking out the window or toward the horizon by playing an old-fashioned game of I spy or license plate bingo. If the kids are too young, try distracting them with a family singalong. If you’re going to have to listen to the “Frozen” soundtrack again anyway, why not make it a bona-fide in-car event?
  • Keep the air flowing: If your child is seated in the middle of the backseat, aim the air-conditioning vents straight at them. Or crack the windows to let fresh air inside the cabin.
  • Pack the right snacks: Bring along cool bottled water, or saltines or soda crackers to soothe nausea. Try to avoid greasy snacks and fast-food meals while on the road.
  • Feeling sick? Pull over: If your child is on the verge of being sick, find a rest stop and have him lie down outside on his back with his eyes closed, with a cool towel on his forehead to help him recalibrate.

Carsickness Kit

If carsickness is inevitable, talk to your pediatrician about medication options or make this simple travel kit created by contributor Sara Lacey:

  • Pack a water bottle, a plastic grocery bag, empty gallon-sized zip-close bags, mints or gum (spearmint works well) and another zip-close bag filled with warm, damp washcloths (stow in a thermal lunch bag to keep them warm).
  • When your child is feeling like she’s going to throw up and you can’t pull over, give her the empty zip-close bag to use. Then you can zip it up and throw it away when you get to the next trash can.
  • When she’s done being sick, give her a warm washcloth to clean up. Then have her drink some water and suck on a mint or chew some gum.

Although it may take a little extra planning, there are plenty of good times to be had in the car this summer — even when traveling with kids prone to carsickness.

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