Boy with water bottle Our bodies are more than half water, and we need a regular intake of fluids throughout the day to stay healthy. That’s especially true for growing, active children and teens.

How can you help your child develop healthy hydration habits? We asked Amanda Berry, a nurse practitioner in the Division of Urology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), for suggestions.

Raise your child to prefer water when thirsty

“Let’s start with what your kids are drinking,” says Berry. “Your child’s body needs to replenish the water being lost through sweat, breathing and urination, and water is absolutely the best fluid for that. Unflavored milk is also good — whole milk for toddlers and skim or 1% for kids older than 2. Milk has the added benefit of providing some nutrition kids need, like calcium for bone growth.”

Other drinks that many parents consider healthy, like sports drinks and juices, are actually loaded with sugar, she explains. That makes them less effective for quenching thirst, as it takes water to metabolize that sugar in your body. And sugar intake is a big factor in the rising rates of childhood and adult obesity. Sugary sodas are even worse and should always be avoided.

“Raise your children on water as the drink of choice, along with milk,” says Berry. “If that’s what’s offered, and you model it by drinking water yourself, your child will grow up with a taste for clear, healthy water. That’s a great lifelong habit to instill.”

Encourage and enable regular hydration

Dehydration in children is relatively common. Drinking water isn’t the first thing on a busy child’s mind. If a drink isn’t in front of them, children may not notice how thirsty they are until they are nearly dehydrated. So keep water handy when you’re with your child and offer it periodically — every couple of hours, or more often when the air is especially hot in the summer or dry in the winter.

Send your child to school with an easy-to-carry refillable water bottle. Some schools have restrictions on where children can bring bottled water, or whether they must fill their bottles at school, so check the school’s rules. If those rules are too restrictive, become a child health advocate and push the school to allow your child and others to bring a water bottle with them and drink from it during their classes. Research suggests that regular hydration improves children’s focus and thinking, something teachers should appreciate.

Some creative ideas:

  • Make hydration fun for younger children by offering water in colorful cups or with silly, curly straws.
  • Make infused water to add flavor and variety. Fill a pitcher with water and a few slices of fruit — such as apple, melon, strawberry or orange — and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. Experiment with different fruits, as well as vegetables and herbs. Cucumber-infused water has a refreshing taste, as does water infused with fresh mint. A cinnamon stick adds flavor to fruit infusions.

We also get water through some of the foods we eat, especially fruits and vegetables. That’s one reason a slice of watermelon or a juicy peach can taste so refreshing on a hot summer day. Make sure hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables are a regular part of your child’s diet — for both nutrition and hydration.

How much hydration is enough?

So how do you know when a child is dehydrated or when they’ve had enough fluids?

“There’s no single number of drinks that will meet every child’s needs,” says Berry. “Children are different sizes and have different fluid needs from day to day depending on the weather and how active they are. But there is one very easy measure of healthy hydration: the color of their urine.”

  • Urine that has only a slight hint of color indicates a healthy level of hydration.
  • Yellow urine is a sign that your child needs to drink more.
  • Dark yellow or brown urine is a sign of dehydration — a signal that your child needs to drink quite a lot, and soon, to restore the water balance in their body.

Berry suggests that you teach your child to look at the color of their urine when they pee, and adjust their water intake based on what they see.

Other signs of dehydration include headache, nausea, fatigue and even dizziness. But you don’t want your child to wait for those as signals to drink more. At that point they’ll be teetering on the edge of a health emergency.

Pay attention to your own health, too

As you work with your child to build healthy hydration habits, you’re likely to find yourself changing your own habits, too. That can be a great side benefit of paying attention to your child’s hydration.

 

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