When you have a baby, dealing with their bodily fluids is part of day to day life. As time goes on, thank god, you see less of their fluids. Just when you think you’re past the worst of it, the sickness has subsided, the poo is staying in the nappies, the dribbling has slowed down to a trickle instead of a flood, the car sickness starts. We have been particularly unlucky because, while most children don’t normally start to get motion sickness until they are a bit older, we had two car sick toddlers, who both started suffering at 11 months. Here’s what to do if your toddler gets car sick.
This post contains affiliate links (identified with a *) I earn a commisson from qualifying purchases
Can a Toddler Get Car Sick?
They most definitely can. It can however be tricky to tell because they are sick fairly often anyway. For Boy Child it started when we were on holiday. His first episode was after eating strawberries so we spent quite some time convinced he had an allergy. Eventually (after picking chucks of vomit out of the car seat a few too many times) we made the connection. When Girl Child was sick after a particularly winding car journey, it didn’t take long to realise what was going on.
Signs Your Toddler is Getting Car Sick
While a car sick child is fairly common (I was a sufferer and so was my mum) its easy to forget how stressful it makes car trips. It’s even more stressful when a toddler gets car sick because they are unlikely to tell you when the nausea starts. One minute everything is fine, the next, they are being sick. Both of my children spent a day a week with their grandparents when they were small. It’s an hours drive away and my husband would take them on his way to work which meant he suffered the brunt of it. To his credit, he persevered with taking them. They loved going and I needed to work so both the kids and I, as well as the grandparents, were very grateful. Here are the signs that your toddler is feeling car sick:
- They are yawning a lot
- They seem hot
- They are either red in the face or very pale
- They are restless
- They are irritable
- They are crying for no reason
Is Car Sickness Upsetting for Toddler?
When the children were small, car sickness generally didn’t upset them very much. Boy Child was almost completely unbothered. Girl Child didn’t enjoy it but soon forgot about it (the photo below was taken just after she was sick!). Having read that the more car journeys they do, the less sick they will be, we continued to drive them places, taking a various precautions to manage the situation. Below are the tips we’ve discovered over the years to help us cope with car sick toddlers.
What Causes Toddler Car Sickness?
Car sickness is caused by the conflicting signals the brain gets when we are in a car. On the one hand, we are sitting down, but on the other hand, we are moving. This confusion causes children to feel sick. As they get older, and they get used to the sensation, most children grow out of it but how long that takes varies from child to child.
How to Avoid a Toddler Getting Car Sick
While toddlers are too young for car sickness medications, there are things you can do to try and prevent car sickness happening.
Car Sickness and Food
We’ve found that they are much less sick if they haven’t eaten before we travel. If we are going out for the day, we will often leave before breakfast then stop somewhere near to our destination and have it then. If we are leaving a bit later in the day we give them breakfast, but avoid dairy. The reason for this is twofold. The first is that we’ve found they are more likely to be sick if they’ve had it. The second is, of all the things they can throw up in your car, dairy smells the worst! I’ve read suggestions of giving them ginger biscuits. It’s never worked for us, just adds to what they have to splatter all over your car.
If they need to eat before the journey, stick to plain foods, avoid dairy and anything that would make the clean up worse!
If your Toddler gets Car Sick, Time your Journey to Minimise the Risk
For us, we’ve worked out the 40 is the magic number. We can generally drive for 40 minutes before anyone is likely to be sick. After the this, the risk increases exponentially. This is useful knowledge because we can try to break up our journeys so that we aren’t in the car for more than 40 minutes at a time. You can experiment with your own child to see how far into a journey they usually start feeling sick.
Time journeys to coincide with nap times or bedtimes, sleeping children aren’t car sick.
We’ve also discovered that neither of them get car sick if the are asleep. When they still had naps, we made use of this by travelling at nap times. If we are out for a full day, we’ll often have dinner while we are out and then let them fall asleep on the way home. If you don’t want to spend loads, I suggest supermarket cafes, they’re great for a cheap and cheerful dinner. We then put them into their PJs and they will generally fall asleep once we’re moving. There’s always a chance they’ll wake up when you get home and refuse to go back to sleep but hey, at least you didn’t have to drive home surrounded by the smell of vomit.
Planning your Journey to Avoid Sickness
Avoid winding roads at all costs! I’ve been known to drive significantly out of my way in order to travel by motorway because it makes a huge difference to their likelihood of my toddlers vomiting. While I imagine everyone tries to avoid traffic when they can, this becomes even more important when you are dealing with car sick children. Stoppping and starting is definitely a trigger.
Winding roads and traffic jams were big car sickness triggers for my children. I would take longer routes to avoid them.
Consider where you Place your Car Sick Toddler’s Seat
Some people have had success with putting car seats in the middle of the car. It’s something that wasn’t practical for us but I’ve heard quite a lot of people say it works so it’s certainly worth a try. It’s something to do with being able to look out of the front window that helps.
Another big trigger for my toddlers was heat. Make sure they don’t have their coat on in the car (safer anyway if they are in a car seat). They can always have it on like a blanket if they are cold. Gloves, scarfs and particularly hats should be taken off. For Boy Child, heat is such a big trigger he’s been known to be sick just from overheating when he isn’t even in a car (the Christmas assembly where the children were required to wear woolly hats and scarves while crowded in the hall didn’t end well).
Open windows to let in some fresh air or use air conditioning to manage the temperature. Consider a hand held fan if your toddler gets car sick in the summer.
Essential Oils for Car Sickness in Toddlers
You could also try using essential oils to help your toddler deal with car sickness. The best oils to use would be ginger oil*, lavender oil* or peppermint oil*. You could add them to a simple vent clip air freshener* a diffuser that plugs into your cigarette lighter* or a USB diffuser*.
Other Ways to Avoid a Toddler Getting Car Sick
There are a limited number of remedies for car sickness in under 2s but there are a few things you can try.
Avoid letting them do anything they have to concentrate on in the car. They should be encouraged to look out of the window as this helps their brain make sense of what’s going on. We’ve found music or a game of I spy is a good distraction. I Spy also encourages them to keep their eyes looking out of the car. If your toddler hasn’t learnt their letters yet you can do it with colours.
We have a set of travel wristbands* for toddlers which work by putting pressure on the relevant acupuncture points. I’m honestly not sure if they help or not but they feel happier wearing them so we go with it.
It’s also important to make sure you have everything you need with you in case of an incident. The photo below is what happened on (one of) the occasions we forgot to take spare clothes for Boy Child.
Planning to Deal with a Car Sick Toddler
Sometimes all you can do with car sick children is be prepared. We have what we lovingly refer to as the sick bag. Not a bag that they are sick in, but a bag with everything they need when they’re sick. Here’s what we include:
- A large tupperware container with a lid to use as a sick bowl (useful if you have to hang on to what they’ve produced until you find somewhere to stop)
- Baby wipes
- Old towels
- Carrier bags for vomity clothes
- Spare clothes (the number of sets depends on the length of the journey)
- Bottle of water (for them to rinse their mouth)
When the Worst Happens – Cleaning Sick Out of the Car Seat
The other precaution we took when they were little and likely to miss the bowl, was covering their car seats. We used either thin towels or plastic or for this. There are so many nooks and crannies in car seats (you really don’t realise how many until you’ve picked sick out of them) that even the washing machine struggles to get them clean. Something you can either throw away or clean easily makes a big difference.
If you do need to clean sick out of a car seat then the first step is to remove the cover. Then, wearing rubber gloves, remove the “solids”. Most covers can then be put in the washing machine on a low temperature. If the type of wash allowed for your cover isn’t hot enough to remove the smell then a fabreeze type spray can help.
Car Sickness in Young Children
At 6 and 8 my children are unfortunately still sick from time to time, although it has definitely improved. School trips are a problem, I imagine car sick children are a teacher’s worst nightmare on a trip. For Boy Child, while he has been sick on coaches, he still isn’t too upset by it. However I suspect Girl Child would be mortified if it happened to her so when she had her first school trip last year I went along (6 hours surrounded by 90 excited 5 year olds, oh joy!). Luckily she wasn’t sick but I suspect I’ll be volunteering as school trip chaperone for a few years yet.
Medication for Children Who Get Travel Sick
You’re probably keen to know when there is something you can give motion sick toddlers to solve the problem. Unfortunately none of the medications are suitable for under 4s.
We’ve recently started using travel sickness medication for our children. It definitely helps but does make them drowsy. We decide weather to use them or not depending on what we are doing. In the UK, your options are Kwells Kids which can be used from 4 years old or medications containing Cinnarizine which can be used from 5 years old.
Having Car sick toddler is a miserable experience for everyone involved so if your child suffers you have my sympathy. If all else fails, you may have take your annual holidays at the local Premier Inn!
Enjoyed this post? Why not pin it for later!