Keeping Kids Hydrated in the Heat

The dog days of summer are upon us, and with them comes increased potential for dehydration. Here’s how to ensure your children get enough fluids—especially if they participate in sports or other summer activities.

How much is enough?

Even in cooler weather, most people don’t get enough fluids. “We tend to live in a chronic state of mild dehydration,” says Marlys Slone, MS, RDN, a clinical dietitian and nutritionist with Kettering Health. “A lot of people wait to drink until they’re thirsty. And thirst is actually a beginning sign of dehydration.” The amount of fluid individuals should consume daily depends upon their size, gender, and condition level. To calculate how many ounces of fluid your children (or you) should consume daily, start with the individual’s weight in pounds and divide it by half. “So if you’ve got a 60-pound child, chances are they need at least 30 fluid ounces a day,” Marlys says. In contrast, a 200-pound teenager in football camp needs at least 100 fluid ounces a day—likely more. “Somebody that’s more athletically conditioned will sweat more,” Marlys explains.

What counts as fluids?

“Water is the best thing for you unless you’re exercising at a moderate or intense level for more than 60 minutes,” Marlys says, adding that cool water tends to encourage more fluid consumption. “When you’re hot, lukewarm or warm water can actually make you feel nauseated.” Other beverages and foods with high water content can also contribute to your child’s daily intake of fluids, including:

  • Juice: Marlys recommends diluted 100% real fruit juice. “A mildly sweet flavor can encourage you to drink, but too sweet a beverage might actually do the opposite,” she says.
  • Milk: “Real cow’s milk actually is one of the best hydrators that you can have, especially after physical activity,” says Marlys. “Just 8 fluid ounces—what most individuals tolerate at one time—provide a lot of the calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein and carbohydrates that are important for your body to refuel after activity, and rebuild that muscle after you’ve been active.
  • Sport drinks
  • Soup
  • Fruits and vegetables: Watermelon, grapes, oranges, kiwi, pineapple, cucumbers, celery, and tomatoes can all help your child rehydrate. 

How can I tell if my child is dehydrated?

Adults can recognize when they’re getting thirsty, but children tend to be distracted, and young children don’t sweat as much as teens. Watch for these signs of dehydration.

  • Coloring: “What is their face telling you?” Marlys says. “Do they look a little bit out of it?”
  • Behavior: “Kids get cranky or emotional when they’re dehydrated or not properly energized,” Marlys explains. This might come out as unsportsmanlike aggressiveness or becoming more tearful.
  • Do they feel really hot to the touch? Nauseated? Really tired?
  • When did they last urinate? If it’s been longer than usual, or if their pee is dark yellow, that’s cause for concern.

“Even if you’re swimming—even if you’re playing a winter sport or you’re outside sledding—these are things to be mindful of because you can dehydrate in any temperature,” Marlys says.

How can I get my kids (or myself) to take in more fluids?

  • Start early. Begin the day with 8 to 16 ounces of water right when you get up in the morning, and include breakfast foods that contain fluids, such as fruits, smoothies, low-fat yogurt, or cereal with milk. You can even add veggies to a smoothie or eggs.
  • Let them choose their water bottle. “It gives them more ownership,” Marlys says. Based on your child’s fluid needs and the size of the bottle, tell them how many refills to consume during their activity or per day. Marlys recommends insulated water bottles to keep beverages cooler longer.
  • Flavor the water. Drop in a few pieces of fresh or frozen fruit to enhance the flavor without adding excess sugar: berries, citrus or cucumber slices, pineapple, or watermelon chunks. Add fresh herbs such as mint, rosemary, and basil. Do an internet search for infused water recipes or experiment with your kids. “There are so many amazing recipes that aren’t a combination that would just naturally spring to mind,” Marlys says.

For more information about hydration and other ways to keep your children feeling their best, talk to their doctor. If they don’t have a primary care provider, click here to schedule an appointment.


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