Don't wait for your kids to tell you they're thirsty before offering them water, experts say. Instead, offer them water and other hydrating foods and beverages throughout the day, particularly in the summer when more liquids are needed to stay healthy.
By the time children are thirsty, they're already at least 3 per cent dehydrated, according to Dr. Holly Benjamin, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Orthopedic Surgery at University of Chicago.
And water does far more than slake thirst, said Marina Chaparro, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Water is a cooling mechanism, it transports fluids and nutrients, helps with digestion, helps with cognitive function and maintains a healthy weight," she told Reuters Health by email.
The amount of water a child needs to stay hydrated and healthy may surprise you: teenagers need as much as adults (eight to 11 cups), while even toddlers aged 1 to 3 should have four cups of fluids a day.
"I use a rule of thumb of 2 to 3 ounces per day per pound of body weight, to a maximum of 8 to 10 cups per day," said Dr. Karl W. Holtzer, a pediatrician with the Pediatric Alliance Fox Chapel Division in Pittsburgh. In email to Reuters Health, he noted that water is not needed for infants under 6 months of age, and babies under 1 year can stay hydrated with breast milk or formula.
It's particularly important to make sure active kids are getting their fill of water.
"Make sure they drink 30 minutes or so before an activity, and then every 20 minutes during the activity, especially during the summer months," Holtzer said. While doctors advise against sugary drinks, they do say that a sports beverage containing electrolytes is okay during prolonged, vigorous exercise.
Aside from complaints of thirst, it can be hard to tell when a child is dehydrated. Some signs could be decreased or dark urine, dizziness and lethargy, Benjamin told Reuters Health by email.