By Rhea Seymour
When the warm weather hits, most kids want to spend the whole summer playing in the water. And no matter where they’re playing, it’s also important for kids to be drinking enough to avoid becoming dehydrated. “Our bodies are between 60 and 80 percent water, so when you’re not drinking enough it has a profound impact on your whole system,” explains Roberta Anding, registered dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Once a child becomes dehydrated, she’s vulnerable to more serious problems: “Children don’t have the same ability to cool off as adults so they are more likely to end up with heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which are medical emergencies,” she says. Here’s what you need to know to keep your child hydrated and healthy all year long:
Watch for dehydration warning signs. Two of the early signs of dehydration in children are fatigue and irritability, explains Anding. If your child seems to have no get-up-and-go or is crabby, it’s time to get him out of the heat for a water break.
How much water do kids need? It’s hard to give one general recommendation for water intake, says Anding, since everybody is different--a child who is playing outside all day needs more water than one who sits inside playing video games. To ensure that your child is getting enough fluid, offer it six times a day. “If you have younger kids, make sure you’re offering it even if they don’t complain that they’re thirsty,” says Anding. “Most of us, including children, don’t have a really good thirst mechanism so by the time we’re thirsty we’re already dehydrated.”
Why water is the best beverage. Calorie-free water is a better drink for your children than soda and even wins out over juice. “Juice has nutrition and vitamins and minerals, but the problem is, the more sweet drinks children drink, the more likely they are to be overweight,” says Anding. “A cup of juice with breakfast and an afternoon snack is fine, but having juice all day long can contribute to weight gain and is probably not great for developing teeth.”
How to encourage more water. Try Anding’s tips for getting more water into your child’s day:
- Offer high water-volume foods. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake can come from fruits, such as watermelon, vegetables, such as cucumber, and milk and milk products, including yogurt.
- Play drinking games. Make fluid part of the fun outdoor activities; have the kids count to eight while taking eight big gulps of water. (For small children, eight big gulps works out to between 4 and 8 oz).
- Take a break. If your child plays on a sports team, ask the person in charge if there are opportunities for fluid breaks. When children are playing outside, they need a water time-out every 15-20 minutes.
- Sweeten it naturally. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime to a glass of water or an ounce of juice to half a gallon of water to add a hint of flavour.