A young child may find it difficult to tell you she’s experiencing motion sickness, but if you recognise a pattern and suspect your child suffers from it, life coach Nadia Scrooby has some pointers for what to do.
Motion sickness can be difficult to identify in a small child if you don’t know what you’re looking for. But two key questions may help to make it less of a guessing game: How can I tell if my child has motion sickness? What is there to do about it?
What is motion sickness?
When motion triggers symptoms of dizziness, feeling queasy, headaches, being disoriented and an inability to focus, it is referred to as motion sickness. Travelling or leisure trips in a car, train, airplane or on a boat, can cause some upset for many children.
Motion sickness can be described as mixed signals from the senses. Conflicting messages of stability and mobility experienced through the eyes and inner ear, cause motion sickness.
The inner ear, related to the vestibular system, is part of a greater system, the sense of movement. The sense of movement works like a GPS, telling the body where you are in space and orienting the body in that space. The sense of movement includes the vestibular system, proprioception and kinesis.
The fluid in the inner ear detects movement, and along with calcium flakes in this fluid, makes up the balance sense of this GPS system. These calcium flakes need to move when a person moves and need to settle down when a person stops moving. An underdeveloped sense of movement can cause motion sickness, as the parts of the inner ear aren’t functioning optimally.
What actually happens is that the eyes can send a message of movement, but the inner ear is not communicating that movement. Or on a steady ride, the eyes don’t detect movement, but the inner ear does. The conflicting messages from both senses cause nausea, dizziness and difficulty focusing. The nausea is the body’s chemical reaction to the conflicting signals, and the body literally wants to be relieved of it.
Symptoms of motion sickness can be experienced during isolated events, where ear infection compromises the functioning of the inner ear. Or a pattern of predictable motion sickness can occur. Observing your child’s symptoms, behaviour and fear of movement, are indicators to help you identify when motion sickness will strike.
Severe motion sickness can even upset a child experiencing movement on the surface of a tar road, where the calcium flakes and fluid only moves mildly. Others only experience it in an airplane, where the air pressure affects the inner ear, or on a boat where the stability of the horizon and the moving water create conflicting messages through the senses.
What can you do to prevent motion sickness?
Keep in mind that all the senses need to be stimulated to develop optimally. The sense of movement is also known as the ‘hidden’ sense, and it needs to be stimulated as with the five familiar senses, known as the ‘visible senses’.
The most effective way of preventing motion sickness, is to stimulate the sense of movement. Children need to move in six directions; left, right, forward, backward, up and down to kindle the complete system of the sense of movement and babies can start with age-appropriate stimulation from as soon as six weeks of age.
Age-appropriate movement stimulation during the early learning years will result in well-developed spatial orientation, muscle mobility and balance, accompanying the sense of movement communicating the right signals and messages to the brain.
The good news is that it is never too late to start, but a child suffering from motion sickness needs the stimulation the most. Keep in mind that development, maturation and integration of a child’s senses play a key role in the progression.
Vestibular therapy can be considered in the worst cases and it focuses on decreasing conflicting sensory input to be able to adapt and be in control.
What can you do to make your child more comfortable?
Medication prescribed for motion sickness is usually powerful anti-nausea medication to prevent vomiting, but it doesn’t prevent the actual motion sickness.
Discomfort caused by motion sickness can be relieved by firstly comforting your child and keeping her calm. Help her to focus on deep breathing and self-calming. Sucking a pacifier or a lollipop, or chewing gum may sound like old wives’ tales, but they really bring relief to many children while travelling, as they relieve pressure in the ear.
Massaging the affected child’s ears has also proven to be very successful in relieving discomfort. If you see your child needs distraction to stay calm, try conversation to alleviate anxiety and if possible, open a window or vent for fresh air.
Motion sickness clears up on its own, sooner or later, as the body has the amazing ability to equalise sensory cues. Let your child lie down to help the body find sensory equilibrium.
Tips and tricks?
When travelling, choose the seat where you will experience the least motion: the middle of an airplane, over the wing, or the lower level cabins near the centre of the ship.
Try to keep the sensory system congruent; when travelling on a train, choose a front-facing seat and when travelling by car or boat, keep your gaze on the horizon or a fixed point, for the eyes to communicate the same movement cues as the inner ear.
You can also prevent motion sickness by developing the sense of movement in these ways:
- Move in all the directions with age-appropriate actions and activities. Rough play with Daddy, dancing with Mommy, bouncing and/or rocking her on a therapy ball, rocking on all fours on the floor, rocking on a rocking chair, playing tug-and-pull and any form of swinging in a swing or a blanket, will make her used to movement.
- Let her encounter a variety of surfaces. Taking her out with the stroller on paving, tar road and gravel, or indoors on tiles, carpet and laminated flooring will make her used to movement on different surfaces.
- Prepare for each time you need to travel by packing water, snacks to suck and chew (or a pacifier) and activities to help with distraction like colouring. Just be sure that an action such as colouring helps with distraction rather than causing motion sickness – just as an adult reading while travelling might experience motion sickness.
- Medication can relieve nausea caused by motion sickness and in worst cases, contact an Early Childhood Development Therapist or Vestibular Therapist for guidance.
- The body’s response to movement should make a child feel inquisitive and ready for exploration. As soon as your child is not in control, due to motion, help her gain control again to be able to enjoy freedom through movement.
The inner ear, related to the vestibular system, is part of a greater system, the sense of movement.
What actually happens is that the eyes can send a message of movement, but the inner ear is not communicating that movement.
The most effective way of preventing motion sickness, is to stimulate the sense of movement.
Keep in mind that development, maturation and integration of a child’s senses play a key role in the progression.