Ask Maxwell: Best Tips to Defeat Car Sickness?

published Jun 16, 2021
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We’ve always had a car sickness problem — would love help with that!


Dear Robin,

We’re about to head out to a wedding in Iowa this week, so your question is perfect. With plane travel and a rented car, we’re going to be logging some long travel hours and my daughter, Ursula, regularly dislikes car rides (though she’s never been a thrower-upper). One of my best friends, however, has two boys who regularly like to hurl in the back seat, causing their car to be nicknamed the “vomit comet.”

Personally, I’ve always found keeping my eyes on the horizon outside the windows the best thing, which means that games, reading in the car, or even films can contribute to sickness. However, I wanted to dig deeper. Here’s what I found.

According to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, motion sickness in children affects 25% of all people on windy roads and is highly genetic. If one parent has it, 50% of the children will have it. It is also not connected to any emotional problems, and cannot be controlled by will power!

According to the Mayo Clinic, motion sickness is caused when the brain receives conflicting messages from the inner ears, eyes, and even the joints in the nerves and muscles. A classic example of this is sensing the motion of the car around you, while your eyes are steadily trained on the lines in a book, which is not moving. Therefore, reducing sensory input and having your child look out the window is your best first move. After that here’s a quick list:

1. Fresh air helps! Keep a window open for fresh air circulation.

2. Avoid big meals beforehand or in the car. Small, bland snacks like crackers and pretzels as well as bubbly water are better for the stomach and will help avoid nausea.

3. Naps are your best friend. Scheduling a drive around a nap time will help, but also inducing drowsiness to prompt naps is good too. The Mayo Clinic recommends over the counter antihistamines like Dramamine or Benadryl about an hour before traveling to make your child drowsy and reduce any feeling of motion sickness.

Finally, if you child is getting nauseous and you fear the worst, all my sources say stop the car, and let them get out and walk around. Frequent stops are ultimately one of the best tools in our arsenal, as is laying them down on their back with a cool, wet cloth on their forehead.

Robin, I hope that helps and enjoy this wonderful summer as we all travel again!

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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