How to Spot the Signs of Dehydration in Kids

Keeping kids happy and healthy is a tall order. Parents stay busy trying to keep up with the needs of their children – it seems there is always a nose to wipe, scraped knees to bandage, and healthy, home-cooked meals to prepare. Despite their best efforts, parents sometimes miss signs of dehydration in kids. By learning about and staying vigilant to symptoms, parents can ensure their little ones are getting the hydration they need each day.

Dehydration can occur any time someone loses more fluids than they’re taking in. Children and babies are more susceptible to dehydration, as their bodies have a higher water content than adults. They need more fluid intake to maintain their equilibrium – failure to get enough water, juice, or other beverage, and kids may start to experience child dehydration symptoms.

Dehydration Symptoms

If you’re on the watch for signs of dehydration in kids, be on the lookout for dry tongues and lips. They’re often the first indicators that children need something to drink. Rapid breathing, blotchy hands and feet, and a lack of tears when crying can also indicate dehydration. Lethargy, pale skin, and a rapid heart beat can also be signs of trouble.

Dehydration doesn’t just pop up on a hot day. It often begins when a child is losing fluids because of diarrhea or vomiting. Fevers can also cause a person to become dehydrated. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, work to replace fluids as quickly and completely as possible. Water is always a good option, but electrolyte-based drinks are great for replacing salt in the body. If you have any doubts about your child’s condition, seek medical attention as soon as possible. While dehydration can usually be treated at home, more severe cases may warrant a trip to the doctor or even hospital care.

How Much Water Should Kids Drink?

We often see headlines about how many ounces of water adults should consume in a day, but kids are usually left out of the conversation. How much water should a child drink a day? It varies by age, of course. Babies can be introduced to water at around six months old. At that age, they only need about four to eight ounces of water daily, as a majority of their fluid intake should come from breast milk or formula. As kids age, though, their hydration requirements skyrocket. Children aged one to three should consume at least four cups of fluid a day – this can be water, milk, or, on special occasions, juice.

Once kids hit the four to eight age range, they can drink about five cups of liquid daily. Older kids need seven to eight cups each day. As they enter their teen years, kids can begin following hydration recommendations for adults – consume as many ounces of water as about half your body weight. For instance, a 100 pound teenager needs about 50 ounces of water each day.

Milk vs. Juice vs. Water: How Hydration Stacks Up

Understanding how much water kids should drink is just the beginning. Many people misunderstand fluid intake recommendations, assuming that milk, juice, soda and sports drinks are equally as hydrating as good, old-fashioned H2O. In reality, water and milk are really the only beverages little ones should be drinking on a regular basis. Avoid sugary drinks in kids under the age of two – this includes juice. While we like to think of juice as a sweet, healthy option for kids, even 100 percent fruit-based juices are loaded with sugar. Once offered juice, kids will often avoid water, because they’re so excited about the sweetness and flavor of their favorite fruity drink.

In general, milk is a better choice than juice. It contains a perfect balance of protein, vitamins, and fat to keep kids hydrated and satiated. Just be sure to avoid flavored milks and plant-based milks for little ones. Flavored milks feature tons of added sugar, and plant-based milks just don’t contain the nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development. If you’re hoping to avoid dehydration in kids with a beverage other than water, cow’s milk is the way to go.

Of course, nothing beats water. It’s super healthy, with zero added sugar and no calories. Water helps keep bones, joints, and teeth in the best condition possible, helps blood circulate better, and improves mood, memory, and attention. It’s also economical – tap water is always more affordable than sodas, juice, or sports drinks.

Making Water Appealing for Kids

While adults understand the importance of drinking water, kids may not. A single sip of a soda can be enough to ignite an obsession with fruity, sugary drinks. Learning how to get kids to drink water can feel like an uphill battle. The reality is, though, that water doesn’t have to be boring. There are a number of ways to entice your family to drink water and stay hydrated all day long. Acting as a role model is a great place to start. By modeling the behaviors you want to see in your children, you’ll set the example they need.

Allowing kids to take ownership of their hydration can also help them embrace regular water consumption. Kids will love picking out their very water bottle in their favorite color or pattern. Just as they see mom and dad sipping from their bottle each day, kids can learn to appreciate having water on hand wherever they go. It’s all about building habits – if you can get kids excited about a water bottle, soon enough, they’ll be drinking plenty of H20 every day!

Drinking water for kids can also come in other forms. If you’re really worried about hydration, try adding fruits like lemons, berries, and cucumbers to your child’s water. The fruity flavors and colors are often enough to entice even the pickiest of children. Fruit can also be frozen into ice cube molds and added to glasses of water throughout the day. Fun is at the center of hydration for kids; if you’re not making water seem enjoyable, you’re going to have a hard time winning over your child!

Packing Water for School Lunches

Even if you’re working hard to instill healthy habits in your kids, the best laid plans can go out the window when they start school. Since busy teachers may not notice signs of dehydration in kids right away, it’s important to set students up for success before they leave home in the morning. A stainless steel water bottle for kids can keep drinks cold for hours. Pack it with your child’s lunch and encourage them to take sips during recess and other breaks throughout the day. While the water fountain at school is fine for a quick drink here and there, having water within arm’s reach can really help promote hydration in kids.

Packing lunch for kids can be a challenge. On top of healthy food and drink choices, parents must also make lunches that are spill-proof and as mess-proof as possible. Leak-proof water bottles are a great way to ensure your little one doesn’t spill their drink on the way to and from the cafeteria. Refillable water bottles are also a great way to cut back on single-use plastics.

More Hydration Tips for Kids

Raising children to prefer water when they’re thirsty is one of the best ways to combat dehydration in kids. Our bodies crave water after losing fluid through sweat, breathing, and urination. While dehydration in children is relatively uncommon, drinking water is rarely at the front of a kid’s mind. Parents owe it to themselves and their little ones to keep water handy. Drinking every few hours is especially important on hot, sunny days when you’re spending a lot of time outside.

Making hydration fun is the key. Colorful water bottles, silly straws, and stickers can all encourage small children to get excited about drinking water. Kids get bored easily, so be ready to mix things up and swap blueberry-infused water for a pineapple-infused version. Remind kids to hydrate before, during, and after they play sports, and avoid sugary sports drinks whenever possible. Symptoms of dehydration in kids can be scary, but with the right healthy habits in place, your entire family can stay hydrated and happy.