Family Special

How to improve holidays with your children

Stop the plane, mum, I'm going to throw up!

Sick bags on planes are great for mini emergencies when you're travelling with children - where else would a six-year-old do his doodling? But the one stowed in front of my son's seat on a recent flight performed the function for which it was intended (at least, it would have done if he hadn't missed). There he was, hurling for England at 500mph - my eldest, the one with the stomach of steel. As he quietly parked his breakfast all over his trousers, I was struck by panic. Was he plane sick? Or just plain sick?

At that moment, I couldn't help thinking of my dad. "Travel sickness is all in the mind," he'd insist unhelpfully on the long bilious car journeys of my childhood. But there was no way this was all in the mind - it was all in the stomach, and then all on the floor, my shoes and the Louis Vuitton handbag belonging to the rather hysterical woman next to us.

Just what makes us travel sick is subject to debate - but my dad may have had a point. Apparently, it does start in the mind, or more precisely the middle ear, which controls our balancing mechanisms and sends signals to the brain telling it we're in motion. The eyes, meanwhile, are telling a different story: they think you're staying still (which in a way you are, so you can't blame them). Confused? Your body is, so it's not surprising nausea ensues.

I've since discovered there are many ways of minimising the distress of motion sickness. My top tip is to get as far away from your wretched, retching child as possible and pretend he's not yours, but failing that, try to nip the problem in the bud. When checking in for a flight, ask for a seat over the wings - the centre of any moving vehicle is the most stable part, so in a car, go for the middle passenger seat. If possible, tilt the seat back, and get your child to close his eyes, to stop those pesky mixed messages getting to the brain. Reading or focusing on anything close up is a no-no; if he must keep his eyes open, ditch his Beano and get him to look at something distant, to help co-ordinate eye and ear signals.

As for anti-sickness remedies, suggestions from well-meaning friends include everything from ginger biscuits (useless when I was pregnant, so why would they work on my child?) to mints and even flasks of iced lemon-barley water. There may not be much scientific evidence to back these up, but anything is worth a try, if only to distract your child from what's going on in the middle-ear department. My son's favourites have got to be the acupressure wrist bands (Boots Motion Sickness Bands, £7.99 for a pack of two) which we bought at the airport before our return flight. Did they work? The jury's still out - but he thinks they're "wicked", and that's what counts.

If you want to resort to drugs, the most effective are those containing Hyoscine (try Joy-Rides, £2.79 for 12 tablets). But be sure to administer them well before your journey begins, because once an attack starts they'll never stay put - and the results won't be pleasant. Because - at least as far as my son's concerned - what goes down must come up again, and only rarely does it make the sick bag. I'll get my dad to sit beside him next time.

KATY'S TOP TIP

Slow, deep breathing can reduce motion sickness, according to research by the Pennsylvania State University. Get your child to breathe in while counting to eight, then out again for eight, for around 15 minutes - preferably before the journey begins.

Katy Holland is deputy editor of 'Mother and Baby' and www.motherandbabymagazine.com. She has written several books on childcare.

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