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Ways to Keep Your Children Hydrated

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet.”

Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

Water provides joy and wonder in so many ways! Running through puddles and under sprinklers, studying cloud formations and rainbows in the sky, finding hidden waterfalls in the forest, swimming in a cool lake, or rafting down rapids. Of all the ways we interact with water, perhaps the most important to our physical well-being is our daily water intake, especially during the long, hot days of summer. Elevated temperatures and high levels of humidity means our bodies lose more fluids, especially when we are physically active. Even on temperate days, drinking enough water is crucial to regulate body temperature, prevent infections, metabolize food, and keep organs functioning well. Sufficient hydration also contributes to better sleep, mood regulation, and overall mental health.

The rule of thumb is that if you’re thirsty, you are already dehydrated. We naturally lose fluids over the course of the day – in sweat, through our skin, in urine and waste – but when your child is not feeling well, particularly if they have a fever, diarrhea, or are vomiting, more water intake is necessary. Infants and young children are at greater risk of dehydration because their higher metabolic rates require a higher baseline of fluids in their bodies.

If your child is dehydrated, they may have:

  • Dry lips, tongue, mouth, or throat

  • Sunken eyes, no tears when crying

  • Pale or splotchy skin

  • Cold hands or feet

  • No wet diapers for three hours, or for older children, less visits to the bathroom

  • Dark urine

  • Listlessness, drowsiness, irritability, confusion

  • Rapid heart rate or labored breathing

Seek professional help if your baby is under six months, or if your child can’t keep down fluids, has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or exhibits severe symptoms. You can treat your child’s mild dehydration at home with water, kid-friendly rehydration solutions (like Pedialyte), diluted apple juice, or their usual milk or milk substitute. Beverages high in sugar content can make dehydration worse. Consult a pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s fluid intake and nutritional needs.

Incorporate some of these tips to actively increase your family’s fluid intake:

  • Drink A Glass of Water When You Wake Up - Encourage everyone in the family to make this a habit! This jumpstarts metabolism and provides an energy boost to start the day.

  • Provide Easy Access to Drinking Water - Place a stool near the kitchen sink, keep a pitcher of water on a lower shelf in the refrigerator, or set up a water station. Support your child’s self-care and independence by giving them the means to grab a drink without your assistance.

  • Set and Share Goals & Track Progress - Setting an intention to drink a certain amount helps you and your child regulate how much water you have throughout the day. You can also make a chart on the refrigerator! Each person moves a magnet next to their name one space over every time they fill up. When your child sees how many spaces are left to go in the afternoon, they may suddenly feel how dry their mouth feels!

  • Drink From the Same Container Every Day - Using a specific glass or stainless steel water bottle consistently takes the guessing out of tracking water consumption from day to day. Rather than trying to calculate different volumes, your child just remembers to fill up their water bottle at least four times a day. Alternatively, assign a pitcher or jug of water to each person, and mark it with goal lines to drink by certain times.

  • Water is Best, but Also Drink Milk or Milk Substitutes - All types of milk and milk substitutes have high water content. They also provide nutrients and hydration-boosting electrolytes that can help your body recover after working out or going outside. It takes longer for the body to process nutrient-rich beverages like milk; the longer it takes to absorb fluids, the longer the body retains them. Drinking milk and other healthy drinks helps the body absorb water more efficiently!

  • Minimize or Completely Cut Out Caffeinated Drinks - Caffeine is a diuretic, and the body loses calcium when urine production is increased. In addition, caffeinated drinks are usually acidic, degrading enamel in teeth. Avoid caffeine to protect bones & teeth!

  • Drink Water Before Each Meal or Snack - Use your regular mealtimes as a reminder to hydrate! Drinking water before eating also aids digestion and helps your body absorb nutrients with more ease.

  • Increase Water Consumption When You Go Outside or Engage in Physical Activity - Sweat depletes fluid in the body. Make a concerted effort to drink water before, during, and after high energy activities or spending time outdoors.

  • Eat Plenty of Fruits & Vegetables - We get about 20% of our fluid intake from the foods we eat. The most hydrating fruits are watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, and cantaloupe, followed by peaches, raspberries, pineapple, cranberries, and oranges. Eat water-rich vegetables like cucumbers, celery, radishes, tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, and bell peppers.

  • Flavor Your Water - Make your water fancy with slices of lemon, cucumber, orange, pineapple, or lime! Or freeze raspberries, grapes, and blueberries in ice cubes. Infuse a pitcher of water with mint, lavender, rosemary, or sage for more variety. For variety, try flavored seltzer, sparkling water, or drink mixes, but check for sugar content and artificial sweeteners.

  • Make Popsicles & Smoothies - Experiment with pureed fruits, unsweetened coconut milk, greek yogurt, honey, and other natural ingredients. If you add fruit juice, do so sparingly because they are low in healthy fiber and high in sugar and calories.

Here are general daily fluid intake recommendations for children (including water, milk, and other beverages), in 8 oz cups:

  • 1 to 3 years old: 4 cups

  • 4 to 8 years old: 5 cups

  • 9 to 13 years old: 5 -6 cups

  • 14 - 18 years old: 6 - 8 cups

Maintaining everyone’s hydration level can be a struggle, but together, you can establish a water consumption routine that is sustainable, fun, and delicious!


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