Children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults and research suggests that many children may be suffering from mild dehydration. Mild dehydration increases the risk of fatigue, headaches, constipation and even urinary tract infections. It has also been shown to reduce mental ability, reaction times and physical performance, by as much as 25%.

Children need to drink at least 6 – 8 cups of fluid every day – and water is the most recommended fluid to keep them performing at their physical and mental peak.

Water is the best fluid for your child to drink, as it rapidly enters the bloodstream and tissues. It is also readily available and, unlike cordials and fizzy drinks, comes free of sugar and harmful additives such as flavourants and colourants, which are not thirst quenching, and are a significant contributor to childhood allergies and obesity.

Water and sport

During exercise, children should drink additional water to guard against dehydration. For exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes, diluted fruit juice (1:1) is recommended for supply extra energy. Full strength fruit juices and other concentrated drinks should be avoided, as they create feelings of fullness and can cause cramping.

Drinks containing caffeine should also be avoided as they have a diuretic effect, which increases overall fluid loss.

Sports drinks are only indicated for sustained exercise events lasting several hours. While they contain electrolytes, which are lost when people sweat, they usually contain high levels of sugar and chemical additives such as flavourants and colourants.

Are my kids dehydrated?

Surprisingly fatigue, not thirst, is usually the first sign that the body needs water. By the time children feel thirsty, sometimes confusingly experienced as hunger, they will already be mildly dehydrated, negatively affecting their physical and mental performance. Other warning symptoms of mild dehydration can include:

– Headaches
– Dry mouth
– Dizziness
– Weakness
– Rapid heartbeat
– Dry, flushed skin
– Muscle cramps
– Constipation

This is why it is so important to keep children drinking water regularly throughout the day.

What you can do

Tell your child how important water is to their health, how much they should drink and how to keep an eye on their hydration status.

– Make water more appealing. Have large jugs of water with added ice, lemon and fresh mint available at every mealtime and in the fridge.
– Filter the tap water you drink to enhance the taste.
– Provide your child with a suitable water canteen for school. Stainless steel and polycarbonate plastic don’t affect the taste of the water. Freeze the night before during hot weather so that the water will stay chilled for most of the following day.
– Check that children are given the opportunity and encouragement to drink water throughout the day.
– Mix sparkling water with pure fruit juice for a treat.
– Don’t have fizzy drinks and cordials available as an option, especially at home.