H2O: What Parents Need to Know

Your questions answered about keeping your kids hydrated

How to Keep Your Kids Hydrated

More than half of children and teens don’t drink enough fluids — and nearly a quarter do not drink plain water at all, according to a recent Harvard School of Public Health study. But keeping kids hydrated is essential to their health and well-being, especially when they’re active in playing sports or spending time in hot, humid weather.

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Here, Deb Lonzer, MD, Chair of the Department of Community Pediatrics at Cleveland Clinic Children’s answers some of parents’ frequently asked questions about hydration:

Q: So, should I enforce the 8-by-8 rule?

A: How much water kids should drink depends on their age, weight and physical activity. However, it’s a good rule of thumb: five to 10 8 oz. glasses of water a day puts your child in optimal range for staying hydrated.

Q: When and how often should my child drink water?

A: To remain consistently hydrated, it’s a good idea for your child to drink water in regular intervals versus consuming large quantities all at once.

However, it might not be so obvious for your child that he or she needs water. They should not wait to feel thirst. By the time they’re thirsty, they’re already dehydrated. Dehydration sets in when the fluids lost through breathing, sweating and urination are not adequately replenished.

Q: Exactly how does dehydration affect my child’s body?

A: Short-term effects include muscle cramping, fatigue, headaches, irritability, poor physical performance and reduced concentration. But there are also long-term effects, such as altered brain development, difficulty thinking clearly, and trouble doing well in school.

Q: This sounds like a chore. How can I get my child to drink up?

A: For long-term health, make drinking water a part of your child’s daily routine so it becomes a natural habit. Follow these 3 tips:

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Introduce it early – At six months, give infants water instead of juice to help them grow accustomed to the flavor.

Make it easy – Use reusable water bottles to fill up with tap water throughout the day to easily keep track. (Tap water might be preferable to commercial bottled water in plastics, which contain bacteria.)

Remind your teens – Encourage them to drink 15-20 ounces of water before and after sports and outdoor activities.

Q: Does it have to be water?

A: Drinking water is the very best way to hydrate. While sports drinks can quickly rehydrate and replace electrolytes after rigorous physical activity, they contain sugar which can remove water from the system and should therefore not be a primary source of hydration.

Same goes for caffeinated beverages like soda, tea and energy drinks — anything that stimulates urination should be avoided or supplemented with a glass of water.

Q: But for my kids, nothing trumps a juice box. What do you suggest?

A: Here are a few simple strategies to make water more appealing:

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Up the fun factor – Give kids something exciting to drink out of (think: curly straws, reusable bottles with their favorite characters).

Add natural sweetness – Try tossing in apples, strawberries or lemons for a variety of flavors.

Q: But what about when my kids are on the go or at school?

A: When it comes down to it, encourage kids to drink the water that is available to them. Water fountains seem to have gone out of favor, but we have to remember they’re there for a reason.

What every parent needs to know about keeping kids hydrated. #parenting

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Deb Lonzer, MD

Deb Lonzer, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and the Chair of the Department of Community Pediatrics for Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
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