Hydration is extremely important to a child's physical and mental health. As well as drinking fluids, our main hydration comes from eating food especially fruit and vegetables.
According to the National Hydration Council, drinking water improves all round school performance in terms of alertness, calmness and willingness to learn. In fact it is claimed well hydrated children doubled their interest in learning. So make sure your child takes in water and learns to regularly sip at school. Teach this habit at home.
Well hydrated children will tend to have less health issues and perform better at academic exercises and sports.
Dehydration in children can manifest itself in many ways. Being thirsty is an obvious one but this sensation in a child can come a while after being dehydrated and kids don't always tell you. Sleepiness, headaches or light headedness plus limited urine output or darker urine are usually reasonable signs. Severe hydration issues may include a quickening heartbeat or fast breathing or fever which obviously need urgent medical assistance.
Water or milk are the best drinks to hydrate children on a regular basis. Vegetable juices are also good but sometimes not popular with kids. Artificially sweetened still (non-fizzy / non -carbonated) drinks are another possibility next on the list but not quite so healthy. However, if that is the easiest way of getting water into your child's system then that is perfectly acceptable. Just make it weak.
Avoid fruit juices unless that is all a child will drink (eating fresh fruit is much healthier) and water it down. Also avoid sugar laden carbonated drinks. These lead to sugar spikes which are easily stored as fat and contribute to weight control issues.
The table below is simplified but based on European Food Safety Authority values (actual numbers vary slightly for boys and girls but an approximate middle ground is shown here).
|Age||Recommended Fluid Intake (litres/day)*|
*Note this is from food and drink. Typically 20% is from food.
Over-hydration is an issue too. If you drink too much water in a very short period of time there is a (admittedly rare) possibility that this could lead to a serious medical emergency. So don't give them lots of cups of water one after another.
What can happen if my child is severely dehydrated?
Severe dehydration is a serious medical condition and needs urgent attention. Some examples of this could be:
- Low blood pressure
- Severe headaches
- Sunken fontanels or eyes
- Massive thirst
- Fast breathing or heartbeat
- Major thirstiness
If your child has major hydration issues then this should be treated as a medical emergency.
What can I do to promote a hydration for my child?
- At first, when children are younger, keep them hydrated yourself by regularly making sure they drink water.
- Monitor urine colour and check our chart above to make sure this is sufficient
- Teach your child to be proactive themselves about wanting to be hydrated and allow them to choose a cool cup and bottle that they can regularly drink from
- Encourage your child from a young age to top up their own water (give them accessibility to a jug for example). Make sure it is age appropriate and safe. Clean it each night due to build up of germs
- Explain to your child the benefits of hydration and consequences of dehydration so they buy into the required intake increase. Teach them what counts as good hydrating fluids and what counts as bad ones and why.
Being properly hydrated is crucial for children and can significantly improve health. Make sure your child is well hydrated with healthy fluids on a regular basis and try and them to sip regularly. Add a water bottle to the school bag to encourage use at school and get one for the home too. Keep them clean though! Monitor urine colour regularly.
Keep a chart on how many glasses of water your child should drink. About 8 glasses a day is the usual target. There are spaces for 3 children on the chart. See which child manages to drink the most by the end of week. Encourage sipping throughout the day rather than drinking large glasses too quickly.