Children and Dehydration: Important things to know

The standard recommendation of water intake for children is 6-8 glasses (48-64 ounces) a day, consumed throughout the day, with plenty of additional fluid consumed during exercise.

Children spend at least half their waking hours in school. When it’s summer time, they may spend an even higher percentage of their day outdoors at camp, running around, playing games, and in the sun. Between the two, that’s quite a few opportunities that children are away from parents, with the possibility of becoming dehydrated or succumbing to heat-related illness.

Readily available water coolers, water bottles, and cold towels strategically placed around camp and school premises can help to achieve these aims and prevent severe heatstroke and dehydration issues.
Frequent breaks for water, even for a minute or two, are also crucial to help maintain healthy hydration levels in children. Whenever possible, and relative to the temperature of the day, take a break every 20 minutes for a quick drink of water!

What is dehydration?

Quite simply, dehydration is not having enough water in the body. It may result from inadequate water intake, or from losing body water, and can develop rapidly.
The body is made up of more than 60% water – to retain the proper amount, make it a goal for your children to drink almost 60% of their body weight in water, every single day. In other words, if a child weighs 100 pounds, they need to drink about 60 ounces of water to ensure proper hydration.

How can you tell if children are dehydrated?

A lot of people don’t realize they are dehydrated, because they have become so used to feeling below their best. Symptoms of mild dehydration can be difficult for parents and professionals to spot. Some children become irritable, tired and are unable to concentrate. Be observant of their concentration level – it’s a sign of dehydration when a child begins to lose focus quickly.
By the time they get home, many children complain of tiredness or headaches, and some may be too lethargic to do anything but slump in front of the television. Although we may think of this behavior as normal, it is in part due to dehydration.

What effect does dehydration have on the brain?

Water makes up almost 80% of the brain, and is an essential element in neurological transmission. Poor hydration adversely affects a child’s mental performance and learning ability. Symptoms of mild dehydration include tiredness, headaches and a feeling like jet lag, as well as reduced alertness and concentration.

Mental performance – including memory, attention and concentration – can decrease by 10%, once thirst is noticed. Mental performance deteriorates progressively as the degree of dehydration increases.
Thirst is felt when dehydration results in 1-2% loss of body weight due to water loss. For a child weighing 60 pounds, for example, this is equivalent to one or two very large glasses of water (10-12 ounces of water in each glass), which is the amount a child tends to lose during a camp lesson, or running around the playground for an hour.

What are the effects of dehydration on children?

The early effects of even mild dehydration are significant for health, well-being, performance and learning – and in the long term carry a higher risk of a number of health problems and disease states.
These include constipation, continence problems, kidney and urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and cancers. In scientific studies, a decrease in cancer risk was specifically associated with drinking water, as opposed to other fluids.

What do you do if a child becomes dehydrated?

A child older than two years may drink water or other clear fluids, with the guidance of a pediatrician. Most children older than two can have apple juice, chicken broth and Gatorade-type sports drinks (although, be aware of sugar content in Gatorade).

If the child is vomiting, try having them drink small amounts of liquids. As the vomiting subsides, more liquids may be introduced. Get them out of direct sunlight, and have them sit with their back against a support.

If you have one on hand, use a towel or piece of clothing to wipe away sweat, protect them from the sun beating down on their skin, and more. Ideally, keep several towels in an iced cooler, to use quickly on a child’s neck and forehead, should they begin to overheat.

Special products, like Pedialyte, are used to reintroduce fluids to an ill child. These liquid products provide an ill child with an electrolyte solution to offset changes in their blood chemistry that occur during dehydration.

About the Author: Bobby DeMuro is the Executive Director of NoFizz Charlotte, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healthy hydration in the Carolinas through community education events and student outreach programs. He resides in Charlotte with his dog, Dakota. For more information, visit www.nofizzclt.org.


 Mommyality combines Mommy and Reality. You never know what's going to happen, nor do you want to know. Read more from this author


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