When Your Child Vomits in Public: A Guide to Etiquette

Going places with babies and small kids is like playing an endless game of Regurgitation Roulette: you have several loaded guns with you at all times and any one – or all of them – could explode in vomit at any moment. It’s part of the adrenaline rush of being a parent.

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I was painfully reminded of this when my two children and I were on our way to the Gold Coast for the holidays. We were on a crowded plane when my three year old became increasingly distressed as we descended into the hinterland. My son has a rare birth defect and lacks an ear canal on one side, so I assumed that the cabin pressure was causing him pain and I did my best to comfort him.

We eventually hit the ground without incident and were taxiing towards the terminal when he finally stopped crying, and I allowed myself a sigh of relief. It was all over. We were almost there. Except that it wasn’t. Mercifully, the crying had stopped but he was heaving and gagging instead, and then it dawned on me with a sickening sense of helpless dread…


(looks down at warm pool of brown sludge in lap)



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Why did he throw up? It could have been travel sickness from turbulence, it could have been that he scoffed all his plane snacks in the first five minutes, it could have been the pressure build-up on descent or it could have been the fact that we had a close encounter with Karl Stefanovic at the departure terminal.

All of that was beside the point.

When you are nursing the semi-digested stomach contents of another human being in the gusset of your skinny jeans all of that ceases to matter. What matters now is that your child has just dropped your sorry arse in a social faux pas of epic proportions. It stunk. Oh how it stunk. And we were trapped in an enclosed space.

It’s an etiquette minefield when your child vomits in public. Here are some tips on dealing with it:

1. DO NOT try and catch it

Kudos! That valiant attempt to catch your child’s vomit like you were taking a screamer at silly mid on is admirable. But… you’re an idiot. You can’t catch vomit and you’re just going to look stupid if you try. *slow claps*

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2. DO NOT curl up in a ball of burning shame and die from spontaneous combustion

This one is self-explanatory.

3. DO NOT cry

You will want to cry hot tears of humiliation. Don’t. You’ve already maxed out your embarrassment quota for the day week year.

4. DO NOT laugh

Your inner sadist will want to giggle hysterically at this misfortune. Don’t. Allowing yourself to indulge in a wildly inappropriate social response does not help solve this problem.

5. DO NOT let out an exasperated “Fucking GREAT” loud enough for everyone to hear

It makes you look like an unsympathetic asshole.

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6. DO stay calm

Stifle the urge to laugh, cry, gag, swear and/or die of embarrassment the best you can, while you try to contain the biohazard your child just generated. Think calm thoughts and take deep breaths – but not deep enough to make you dry retch.

7. DO your best to clean it up 

Improvise with available resources. This might mean asking your children to remove items of clothing so you can use them as cleaning cloths or it could mean the unorthodox use of panty liners, knapsacks or paper bags. I never carry tissues or wet wipes so I used my five year-old son’s flannelette shirt. Lucky for him it was cold and wet when we disembarked, so he didn’t need it as we shivered our way across the tarmac.

8. DO accept offers of help

If anyone is kind enough to offer their assistance you should briefly choke back your crippling social awkwardness to say “yes”.

9. DO apologise to everyone in the immediate vicinity

Apologise to everyone: Innocent bystanders. Staff members. Cleaning crews.

Apologise for everything: For the vomit. For giving birth to children that vomit. For the Liberal Government. For Justin Bieber’s last single. For the Aniston-Pitt break-up.

Apologise for apologising. And then apologise some more.

10. DO make a special apology to bystanders affected by the vomit splatter pattern

You will need to save your most servile and self-abasing apologies for anyone who is directly impacted by the splatter pattern. In our case it was the lady sitting in front of us, whose armrest was in the path of trajectory. Maybe she was in shock because someone had just projectile vomited into her personal space, but she was remarkably nice about it.

11. DO NOT make direct eye contact with anyone

You are not very popular right now: the last thing you need is to have this reflected back to you in the resentful glares of the general public. Pray that no one is capturing your humiliation on a smartphone and slink away quietly, surrounded by the overpowering stench of shame, partially-digested Cheezels and fermented stomach acid.

107 thoughts on “When Your Child Vomits in Public: A Guide to Etiquette

  1. I’ve had one public vomiting experience with my daughter. It was at networking event while we were on holidays in Melbourne. Thankfully all the other arrendees were also mums so they made me feel better about the vomit volcano I had brought into their midst!

  2. I thankfully haven’t had a public vomit incidents. Very thankful as I’m a sympathetic spewer and I still can’t manage to cope with child vomit. All incidents of vomit have so far been at home with husband to do the clean up while I stand are far away as possible trying not to bring up the contents of my stomach as well.

  3. We’ve had one public spew – good thing it was outdoors, but bad thing was it was an outdoor cafe, AT LUNCHTIME, SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE EATING LUNCH. Didn’t help that the spew was purple thanks to some blueberries he’d eaten at breakfast. His timing was perfect too – right when our orders arrived… The male food server took one look at the puddle, turned green and disappeared. One of the girls came to help us out, and I’ve never apologised so much in my life.

  4. I’m tipping Karl Stefanovic. We have been remarkably lucky in the spewing department so far (touching every piece of wood in my house right now). I hope with everything I have that I never have to do that plane one. Man oh man. The smell, in your lap. Ugh.

  5. Oh no. Wise words, dismal luck. What is it with kids and planes and why do these calamities happen when you’re doing the already hellish solo parent travel gig?
    My worst was me with Mr then 3 and Mr 3 months on a flight between Melb and Sydney. The latter was on my lap and had one of those infant yellow nappy explosions. First I knew of it was when I felt something warm and wet running down my leg (thankful at least for a short skirt and bare legs). This happens as they announce landing and put the seatbelt sign on. Just as I’m scrabbling for wipes, tissues, anything, Mr 3 says he needs to do a wee. There was no getting up. Seatbelt sign was on and I was covered in poo. After some pleading he eventually just sat there and wet his pants. One Qantas seat covered in wee. The other covered in poo. It was the walk of shame indeed.

    • Hahahahahhahah! Why do they always have the WORST timing?! Your poor little man – I was actually worried that the exact same thing was going to happen with my 5 year old but thankfully I was spared that indignity as well. Walk of shame indeed, my friend.

  6. Oh you poor poor thing – at least it made for a funny post – I’m not entirely sure that’s quite enough recompense however. I am such a sympathetic vomitter that I gagged a little reading this. Hope the trip back is less eventful.

  7. Brilliant. I’ve yet to be the proud owner of a vomiting kid but one of my best friends’ kids did a lovely spew directly into my crotch a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty funny though… although I did have to borrow some trousers to go to work. x

  8. Yep……. I can never go into the Bright Bakery (Vic) again after my daughter vomited there one Easter after the drive down from Falls Creek………I tried (failed) to catch it……. Then I bolted. Truly awful.

  9. Oh my word!!! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry with you!! Hope your little guy was ok after that and you didn’t die too much of embarrassment!! I always pounce into dramatic action when I hear those pre spew noises – trauma from brothers spewing in car as a kid!! Ew! The smell!!!

  10. Oh I feel for you Zilla! Luckily I’m yet to have a public spewing incident with my tornadoes. Based on my cat-like reflexes I’m guessing I’d attempt to catch it – and fail miserably as you so rightly pointed out. I still refuse to wear white, just in case. Although I don’t think any colour would help. My parents were pretty lucky – the only time I ever spewed as a kid was once a year on Christmas morning. I think it was the pure excitement of it all. Maybe your son’s incident was delayed excitement from seeing Karl? 🙂

  11. I’m not sure I could hold in a giggle. I am an uncomfortable giggler. This is my worst nightmare though. Once I had someone else’s kid vomit on me and my handbag on a flight. She was travelling with her Dad and he was mighty embarrassed. This was prior to kids and I even helped clean it up! I walked off that flight thinking I was some kind of martyr.

  12. Wowzas! A big High 5 to anyone who ever tries to catch their kid’s vomit- my reaction is to always- ALWAYS- jump out of the way. I’m really caring like that.

    Oh but that sucks- the sheer terror in a parent’s eyes when their child starts to projectile ANYTHING out of their little bodies is always frightening (was witness to a toddler’s projectile poo moment on our last flight) and should be met with wholehearted “What poo/vomit/snot??” *cough let’s get out of here quick cough* by the general public. Or an offer of help if you’re nice.

    Hope the rest of the holiday goes well! Enjoy!!!

    • Yes, I am so much more willing to step in and lend a hand myself now since being a parent, because you just KNOW the pain they’re going through. It’s hard to imagine that one day they’ll be all grown up and managing their own bodily fluids. I can’t wait!

  13. Lol mine used to projectile vomit EVERYWHERE when she was little {because she had her dairy allergy that countless drs kept telling me was nothing for weeks}. I used to leave the house with vomit covered t-shirts on because I just didn’t care, and at that point every top had vomit on it anyway. I would die if she vomited now, plus I’m a sympathetic vomiter so just reading this post nearly made me sick, but I persisted! #teamIBOT

  14. Oh no, you poor thing! Worst nightmare! My only experience of public vomit was getting absolutely smashed off my tree on Red Bull and vodka and spewing in my handbag on the bus ride home. Let it be known that adult vomit incidents are equally as mortifying as kids ones, even when you are drunk!

  15. Oh my goodness!! And I thought crying babies in planes were as bad as it could get. Another one to file away under ‘reasons to not have kids’ for me. Apart from the whole I’m going to fuck them up bit.

    I really do feel for you…and for your poor bub. First thing I would have done is sworn my head off though.

  16. Oh God! Thanks for the tips. This has never happened to me * touch wood*. Before reading this, I probably would have reacted to the vomit with Fucking great and then why me and then cried. I find it hard to behave in these situations. Keeping calm and apologising is definitely the way to go. The poor little guy!

  17. It’s a relief to know that I responded in an entirely appropriate manner when my child redecorated the bubble bath aisle of Tesco. Oh, god. The smell…

  18. OH GOD! That is a bit shit. I would have laughed and swore. I know you say not to do this, but I would have done it. And…..you have to carry wipes wherever you go! WHEREVER YOU GO!! They are the best invention. Funny post. x

  19. Bahahahahaha!! I mean, poor you, that’s terrible! But, bahahahahaha! You had me at ‘gusset of your skinny jeans’, all the rest was just gravy. Spewy smelling gravy. I have had to deal with a plane spew, but I was so terrified that it was going to happen (it was a 24 hour flight) that I’d packed numerous spare pairs of clothes and small plastic bags to put them in. Guess having two upchucking babies did bring with it some benefits.

  20. When my son was 6, he threw up on the train, all over the seat to be exact. Iit happened so quickly and as he’d never vomited before I was taken by surprise, and it took me a few seconds to direct him to vomit on the floor. Then I realised we had to get off at the next stop, but the vomit just wouldn’t stop. In my panic I started hassling him “hurry up! That’s enough now! Can you finish the rest when we get off?” before realising it was the end of the line anyway. A young lady sat opposite us, pretending to still be engrossed her book despite the revolting sounds and smells just inches away. I apologised to her but she claimed she was used to it as she worked in a pub. I urged her to sit somewhere else (it was an almost empty carriage) but she was obviously way too polite for her own good, shrugging it off and staying put (making me feel more awkward with every new heave). I didn’t have anything useful – no tissues, wet wipes, paper bags, nothing. But I did have a pen and paper, so I propped a note up on the pile of vomit which read: “Dear cleaner, I am SO SO sorry! My child vomited unexpectedly. 😦 ” I thought it would help to know that it was a child, because if I had to clean up someone else’s vomit I’d feel a tiny bit better knowing it was a child and not an adult.

  21. I had taken my two small sons for afternoon tea in the crypt cafe of a local Cathedral. Calm, quiet, the tinkling of teaspoons in saucers…………..while I was busy fussing over the one-year-old, the two-year-old turned around and vomited over the woollen coat of the middle-aged lady behind us! I will be forever grateful to her for her smiling kindness, and refusal of my offer to pay the cleaning bill.

  22. 3yo was sick in the cinema (film preview) after her uncle gave her a fruit shoot (never again – theya re vile and I don’t blame her).

    She threw up all over me, her Dad, my handbag, and our winter coats (It was December and freezing), and the velvet chair she was sitting on and the carpet.

    We cleaned ourselves up as best we could in the loos. Thankfully the film was nearly over and we told the staff who didn’t even bat an eyelid and went to deal with it.

    the 40 minute, fairly crowded, BUS RIDE home, all of us wet, cold and yet still very smelly, was memorable.

  23. same child was sick on long haul flight. I had good sense to pack a change of clothes. I was astonished when the cabin crew came along and put her seat into a plastic bag and fitted a new one. Impressive.

  24. BAHAHAHA!!! As a fellow vomiter on planes I feel for your son, but as a fellow mother and vomit cleaner-upper – my sympathy mostly lies with you. I puke in bags so there is nothing to clean, your son does not. My son does not. If I could choose which kind of vomit to clean up it would be liquids only, no chunks. Also, what’s with chunky puke always having carrot in it. ALWAYS!!! It’s like diarrhoea always having corn in it. What’s with that. Will share this on my page later, favourite!

  25. Oh just disaster right there in your lap!! We had our 3 yo vomit in a dimly lit pub during a pre-paid buffet entree…we made it through until dessert. Bad parenting…but am sure he must be stronger for it…????

  26. Erhmagherd!!! I shouldn’t – but I did – laugh alot reading this. I only recently experienced my first travel spew, and the memory has lingered (as did the smell). But as my little one is only young, I suspect it’ll be the first of many. I hope the flight home is vom – free for you!

  27. I am a serial vomiter from way back. The best one was when I was about 11 on a French Exchange and I threw up in the family car on the way to some jousting event. I had to attend the event covered in vom and the dad spent the entire time cleaning out his car which still smelt of eau de vom on the way home. As a teacher of young children, I am only too familiar with puking in public, especially on moving vehicles. School Excursions are made for puking if experience is anything to go by. I love your top tips, I’d like to add, when travelling with kids, always take a change of clothes, some wet wipes and a plastic bag (because sometimes vomit can be caught. True story.)

    • LOL funnily enough I did those exact same things on the way home! Thankfully did not need them, but I think that had a lot to do with the Children’s Kwells I got from the chemist. Lifesaver.

  28. Ahahaha number 9 is my favorite… not a parent yet, so excited for what I have to look forward to! ;P

    PS I followed you on bloglovin’ rather than subscribing, because I think if I try to put another email in my inbox it will explode, but I think you’re awesome and I look forward to reading you!!

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