I’m a Pediatrician and a Mom — This Is What You Should Know About Keeping Your Kids Hydrated in the Summer

The summer heat is officially here, along with all the best aspects of summer, from dunks in the pool to hours of outdoor play. When it comes to keeping kids happy, healthy, and able to participate in the fun, few things are as important as hydration. 

As it turns out, our bodies are made up of 60 percent water, and a healthy amount of hydration is essential to keep our bodies functioning. Children are especially prone to dehydration due to their high activity levels, to having a greater body surface area relative to their weight, and to their reliance on adults to stay hydrated. 

However, getting kids who are busy playing to drink water is no easy feat. Let’s chat through exactly how much hydration to aim for, a few ways you may go about keeping your kids hydrated this summer, and when to worry about dehydration. 

How much should my child drink in a day?

Exactly how much hydration your child needs will vary by age, by how active they are, the weather and the types of activities in which they engage. Here are some general hydration goals from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Infants can be introduced to water at 6 months of age. Between then and age 1 they only need 4 to 8 ounces of water per day, as most of their hydration will continue to come from breastmilk or formula.
  • Toddlers ages 1 to 3 need approximately 4 cups of either water or milk throughout the day.
  • Kids ages 4 to 8 should aim for 5 cups.
  • Older kids ages 9 and up should aim for 7 to 8 cups per day.     

How to hit those hydration goals

Serve water with every meal and snack. You already have a captive audience who has agreed to pause and sit for a few minutes to eat. Take advantage and serve plenty of water. 

Keep fruits and veggies that are high in water handy. Some favorites that have a high water content include cucumbers, tomatoes, berries, watermelon and cantaloupe.  

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Try adding flavor to your water. This may be a way to make water more fun and also more refreshing. You can experiment with adding mint, cucumbers, or sliced oranges to a large pitcher. 

Make it an activity with homemade treats. Grab some popsicle molds and let kids choose their adventure with different fruit purees or yogurt. 

Add fun personalized cups. Stickers, glitter, silly straws- there are many ways to personalize a cup or water bottle. Then watch your little one proudly carry it around — and drink!

Teach older kids to understand their hydration status. Learning to monitor the color of their urine (dark urine is a red flag of dehydration — read more on that below) is a great way for kids to know when they need to increase their hydration. 

A quick reminder: What kids drink is as important as how much they drink. Water, and milk in the case of young kids, should be the beverages of choice for children. Consuming sugary drinks, juice, flavored milk and artificially flavored drinks can add empty calories to the diet of young children, and could have additional health risks. 

How to know your child is falling behind on hydration

How much your child is peeing — and the color of their urine — is a very good indicator of how hydrated they are. Having less frequent wet diapers, less trips to the bathroom, or dark concentrated urine is a sign your child needs to increase their fluid intake.

Later, more concerning signs of dehydration may also include being overly sleepy, having dry lips, flushed skin, lightheadedness, headaches, or feeling excessively hot or cold. If your child starts to experience these symptoms, you should remove them from the heat, hydrate as much as possible, and call your pediatrician or head to the nearest emergency room. 

Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a practicing pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a contributing editor to SheKnows, and a mom to an active toddler.

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