A key part of a healthy mind and body as we age is ensuring we’re staying hydrated. Drinking water keeps our body moving, aids in digestion and moving waste out of our body and regulates things like our body temperature and blood pressure.
While hydration is important in adulthood, it’s especially important for children as they are more likely to become dehydrated. Their tiny little bodies don’t cool down as efficiently as adults and they often aren’t clued into the signs of thirst.
“Dehydration is a major cause of illness and death in infants and young children worldwide,” said Brenda Kronborg, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Children's. “Babies and young children are at more risk for dehydration due to their small body size, susceptibility to infection and high metabolic rate, so their bodies use more water.”
Read on as we tackle these questions and offer helpful tips to ensure your child stays hydrated and healthy.
How much water does my child need?
The amount of water a child should drink can vary depending on their age, activity level and weather conditions. If your child has been playing hard outside and working up a sweat or it’s a hot summer day, you may want to increase their water intake that day. As well, keeping your child hydrated when they have intense diarrhea, vomiting and fever is important because dehydration can happen very quickly.
“However, a general rule is to take half of your child’s weight (up to 100 pounds), and this is the number of ounces of water they should drink daily,” Dr. Kronborg said. “For example, an 80-pound child should drink 40 ounces (or five cups) of water each day.”
While water needs can vary, here’s an approximate recommendation for how much water a child should drink per day, depending on their age and gender:
- 1 to 3 years old (girls and boys): 4 cups of water/day
- 4 to 8 years old (girls and boys): 5 cups of water/day
- 9 to 13 years old (girls): 7 cups of water/day
- 9 to 13 years old (boys): 8 cups of water/day
- 14 to 18 years old (girls): 8 cups of water/day
- 14 to 18 years old (boys): 11 cups of water/day
Important note about water: “Infants under 4 months of age should not drink water,” Dr. Kronborg noted. “Their kidneys haven’t developed enough to process water and they may develop seizures.”
Helpful hydration tips
When your child is busy having fun, the last thing on their mind is stopping to take a sip of water. That’s where you can help. Here are some tips to help your child be a water champion.
1. Be a good role model.
Drink water instead of drinks that have sugar, like juice and soda. By instilling this habit at a young age and modeling good drinking habits, your child will grow up with a taste for clear, healthy water.
2. Get a reusable water bottle.
Get a portable water bottle to encourage your child to drink water on the go to places like the park, school and activities. To add a bit of fun, you can have them pick out reusable water bottle stickers to dress it up and make their water bottle their own.
3. Make it a fun, healthy habit.
Water may be “boring” to your child, but there are some ways to make their water drinking more fun.
- You can mark lines on your child’s water bottle to show how much they should drink by a certain time. If they hit certain marks throughout the day, you can set up a reward system.
- Offer water in fun cups or with silly straws.
- You can “spice” up their water by infusing it with fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to add flavor and variety. Let them pick out and experiment to see which infusions they like the most.
- Set reminders throughout the day for water breaks. Try offering water and some healthy, hydrating snacks (see next tip) every hour, regardless of their activity level and keep their water bottle nearby. Or play a game of monkey see, monkey do. Whenever they see you take a sip of water, they have to take a sip, too!
4. Eat hydrating foods.
Did you know you can also get water through some of the foods you eat? The following 20 items contain at least 85% water, making them an excellent choice for children 12 months of age and older for hydration:
- Vegetables: cucumber, celery, tomatoes, iceberg and romaine lettuce, zucchini, spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots
- Fruits: strawberries, watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, peaches, oranges, pineapple, apples
- Fluids: skim milk, soy milk
5. Watch the electrolytes.
Children need their electrolytes replaced anytime they’ve lost excessive fluids. Thankfully, there are only a few instances when this might happen, such as with intense diarrhea and vomiting or profuse sweating.
“For lighter activities in the heat, electrolytes aren’t usually required,” Dr. Kronborg said. “Too much sodium, a part of salt, may force extra minerals into the urine, which can cause kidney stones. Water is often better than electrolyte replacement drinks with routine activities and exercise.”
6. Talk about it.
For younger children, read books about drinking water and talk about what their urine (or pee) should look like when they go to the bathroom. Use a graphic to explain to your child how the color of their urine can tell them whether they are dehydrated or getting enough fluids.
7. Know the signs of dehydration.
“Dehydration can happen very rapidly, so it’s important to recognize the signs,” Dr. Kronborg said.
To tell if your child is getting enough fluids, look for the following signs of dehydration:
- dry tongue and dry lips
- no tears when crying
- fewer than 6 wet diapers per day (for infants) and no wet diapers or urination for 8 hours (in toddlers).
- sunken soft spot on your infant’s head
- sunken eyes
- dry and wrinkled skin
- deep, rapid breathing
- cool and blotchy hands and feet
If these symptoms appear, provide water immediately. If symptoms don’t improve within an hour, call your child’s health care provider for advice.
Proper hydration, a healthy diet and exercise are a winning combination for every child. Make sure to keep them – and yourself – hydrated and healthy.