Having A Kid Who Gets Car Sick Is Hell

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
Daniel Jedzura / Shutterstock

One parenting milestone that we could all live without is that first time your child pukes all over the car. Every parent has a nightmare story about projectile vomit in an enclosed space, and some parents even drive another 10 hours after that happens, which proves parents truly are rock stars.

Any parent who has had to drive with a kid covered in puke for more than five minutes knows that you can pretty much survive anything parenting throws your way after breathing through your mouth for hours.

That’s why parenting a kid who gets car sick can be hell. I was that kid growing up. We had what we lovingly called an “urp bucket” in the backseat of our minivan at all times. My sister and I were both born with this incredible ability to get sick on long road trips, or short ones. It didn’t matter, really. Sometimes it was just my dad’s driving that would do us in. While I’ve blocked out most of those memories, I do remember throwing up large quantities of grape Kool-Aid that one time. It’s etched into my brain. (And now it’s etched into yours too. Sorry.)

Now that I’m a little older, and almost always get to ride in the front seat, I don’t suffer as much. There are still times when I have to make my husband pull over, so I can step on solid ground for a few minutes and get some fresh air, but they are far and few between.

Of course, now that I can manage a car ride without barfing all over, I have a kid just like me. He gets sick in the car, and it can be awful. He came home from an outing with a bunch of friends one time and looked as pale as could be when he walked through the front door. He went straight to the bathroom and puked. Apparently, he had been shoved all the way in the backseat of the minivan that had a “weird smell” because all minivans do if we’re being totally honest.

But other times we haven’t been so lucky. There was the chicken nugget resurface of 2011 that is still seared into my memory six years later. And I swear, despite washing the car seat and wiping down the straps, I can still see stains from the milk incident of 2014. Recently, one hour into a long road trip, this same child started getting really pale and really quiet. My own puke history clued me in to what was happening. We were on the freeway in the middle of nowhere, and we had to sit on the side of the road for 20 minutes so he could breathe some fresh air. Car sickness can make an already annoying road trip seem like hell on earth.

Many families have an experience — or three — with a pukey kid in the car, but when you have a kid prone to car sickness, traveling anywhere can be a complete nightmare. And since we’re preparing to take a long road trip with our kids in a few weeks, I think it’s timely to share what helps our little family survive car trips vomit-free.

Teach your kids to look out the window.

This is a simple trick, but lots of kids don’t know that if they are coloring, reading, or watching the iPad, they might get sick. Have screen-free time and encourage your kids to look out the window instead of down in their lap. I remind my kids often that when I was there age, I just had to entertain myself with songs and made-up stories.

Make sure everyone has had a good meal.

One thing I’ve noticed is that if my son in the car with a sensitive stomach, it helps to not have an empty one. Give your kids a chance to eat outside of the car too if possible. Sometimes smells in the car can make it worse. The smell of chocolate is, of all things, my worst enemy when I’m feeling pukey. Although it seems like an empty stomach would be better, in the long run, keeping my kids’ bellies full helps keep the car a vomit-free zone.

Keep supplies on hand.

When I go on road trips, I don’t take an “urp bucket,” but I do take supplies. I have empty grocery sacks, paper towels, and wet wipes within reach at all times. Towels and an accessible change of clothes can’t hurt either. Trust me, there is nothing worse than panicking at the last minute when your child is about to hurl and realizing you have nothing to catch it. If your child gets really sick on short trips, consider having a little bag in the car at all times along with a change of clothes.

Keep air flowing.

Make sure your kids get plenty of air in the backseat, and check on them often. Even in the winter, it helps to have a little air circulating so that no one gets overheated and everyone feels like they can breathe. Mom cars are disgusting, so make sure there aren’t smells that will trigger nausea. And let’s be real: This may require getting your car professionally detailed before big trips.

If all else fails, try some anti-nausea meds or tricks.

Talk to your pediatrician if it gets really bad. They may recommend something like a small dose of Dramamine. You could also go a more natural route by trying ginger ale or some other natural anti-nausea remedy like peppermint oil.

Don’t be a bad driver.

I’m sorry, but some people are just worse drivers for those prone to car sickness. I had a friend who made me car sick every time I rode with her. Basically, slow and steady is the key.

Listen to your child.

My last bit of advice is to believe your kid when they say they don’t feel well. It doesn’t take much for those of us who have this problem to upchuck our lunch, and you’d rather take a few minutes to give them a break, than have to breathe with your mouth open for 10 more hours. Trust me.

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