As kids’ school sports begin again, which results in more intense outdoor play, one common concern among parents is whether their children are getting enough fluids to stay safe in the heat. It's important to keep kids hydrated — but it's not always easy! If you're thinking about hydration in children, there are many hydration tips you can use to make sure your kids play it safe this summer.
Here's what to know about keeping kids hydrated, as well as insight around how to tell when they need more fluids.
What Does It Mean to "Be Hydrated"?
Being well-hydrated means having enough water in your body so that all of your systems can function optimally. Dehydration is the condition of having a less-than-ideal amount of water in your body.
When a person is dehydrated, they may feel weak or dizzy, and they may have a difficult time performing physical and mental tasks. If left unaddressed, dehydration can lead to more serious problems, so it's important for parents to keep an eye on their children's fluid intake.
How Much Fluid Your Child Needs
The amount of water a child needs during the day depends on their age, activity level, their overall health, what other beverages and foods they consume, how much they sweat, the air temperature and the humidity level. But you can start with a good estimate of fluid needs by using the guidance provided by their pediatrician and information from reputable healthcare organizations.
If the amount of water your child needs seems like a lot, note that some of the fluid they take in comes packaged inside the fruits and vegetables they eat. Unlike meat or starchy foods, produce has a high-water content, so the more fruits and vegetables a person eats, the more water they take in during their meals. Typically, we get about 20% of the water we need from the food we eat.
Here are the guidelines for daily water intake for kids:
Understanding the Signs of Dehydration in Kids
Your school-aged child may show several signs in the early stages or what is termed mild dehydration. It's important to pay attention to their symptoms and take action if you notice they're uncharacteristically thirsty, tired or irritable, breathing faster than usual, have a fever or flushed face, and complain that exercise or play is harder than usual.
Children (and adults) with more advanced dehydration may become dizzy or weak, have constipation, a headache or fatigue. The body also provides other signs, such as dark-colored urine.
Using Urine Color to Assess Hydration in Children
Urine color is a good indicator of hydration status. A well-hydrated person will have clear to pale-yellow urine, often described as "straw-colored." Medium-yellow urine indicates a need for more fluids, and amber-colored urine is a distinct sign of dehydration.
If your child's urine is darker than amber-colored, contact your healthcare provider. Similarly, if your child urinates less than four times in 24 hours, seek medical attention.
Preventing Dehydration Before It Starts
Now that you know approximately how much fluid your child needs in a day, you can ensure that your child stays well-hydrated. Start with the assumption that your child is awake and alert for at least 12 hours a day. Then, divide the number of cups of fluid your child needs by 12.
For example, if you have a 14-year-old daughter, she typically needs eight cups of fluid per day according to the information above. Eight cups per day divided by 12 hours per day is a two-thirds cup per hour. Now it's clear that she needs to drink about a two-thirds cup of fluid every hour, 12 hours a day, to stay hydrated — without accounting for any intense workouts or sports or spending time in extreme heat. If she exercises, she'll need additional fluids, and if she’s sweating, she's also going to lose critical electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
To help her prevent dehydration on the field, encourage her to drink double her usual amount of water in the two hours prior to play. (In this case, 1 1/3 cup per hour.)
If you suspect a child is mildly or moderately dehydrated, an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® can deliver the combination of fluid and electrolytes needed for quick rehydration. However, if your child is severely dehydrated, seek medical attention immediately because advanced dehydration that goes untreated can be life-threatening.
Whether you have a younger child who loves the playground or a teen who can't wait to show up for practice, using these tips should help prevent dehydration and keep your child ready for the next day's play. Especially in warm weather, it's important that kids (and adults) consume an adequate amount of fluids to maintain their health and well-being. After all, there's nothing like a cool, refreshing drink on a hot day.
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Understanding Your Child's Growth Spurt
During childhood years (ages 6 to 12), your child undergoes steady growth and development with periods of more rapid growth known as “growth spurts.” If they're often hungry in between meals or their pants are suddenly too short, they may be experiencing a growth spurt.