The body needs to have enough fluid to be able to function at its best. Children are at risk of dehydration, especially in hot weather and when they are exercising. By the time they feel thirsty, they are probably already dehydrated – so it’s up to parents and carers to make sure they are drinking enough.
Children need to stay hydrated
Two thirds of our bodies are made up of water. Being dehydrated can cause poor sports performance, tiredness, headaches and crankiness - and it can lead to serious medical problems.
Signs your child could be dehydrated include:
- dizziness or light-headedness
- a headache
- dark yellow or brown urine
- dry lips, tongue, mouth or throat.
What does your child need?
Water is the best choice for children. Avoid sports drinks, fruit juices, soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters since they all contain sugar, which can lead to tooth decay.
The recommended daily intake of water for children is:
- 5 to 8 years old: 5 glasses (1 litre)
- 9 to 12 years old: 7 glasses (1.5 litres)
- 13 years old and over: 8 to 10 glasses (2 litres).
Children need even more water when they are exercising. Your child should drink before, during and after physical activity – even if they aren’t thirsty.
Tips to help your child stay hydrated
- make sure they always pack a water bottle
- choose water rather than sugary drinks
- remind them to drink before a sports game
- encourage them to have a few mouthfuls of water during any breaks in the game
- make sure they have a big drink afterwards to make up for any sweat they have lost.
Mild dehydration can be treated by giving your child more to drink. But serious dehydration - for example, if they are unwell - can be very serious. It’s important to know what to look out for.
Symptoms of mild dehydration
Your child may have mild dehydration if:
- they feel thirsty (feeling thirsty is a sign your child is already dehydrated)
- they feel dizzy or light headed
- they are nauseous
- they have a headache
- their urine is dark yellow or brown
- they have dry lips, tongue, mouth or throat
- they aren't going to the toilet as often or not passing much urine
Symptoms of serious dehydration
You should see a doctor or take your child to the hospital emergency department if they show signs of serious dehydration, including if:
- they feel extremely thirsty
- they are lethargic
- they have gone pale
- their feet or hands are cold
- they are breathing rapidly
- they are confused or drowsy
- their heart rate is fast
- their eyes are dark and sunken.
If your child is dehydrated, give them more fluid to drink. Water is best. This is especially important during hot weather and when they are exercising. Encourage your child to drink before, during and after exercise.
If they are sick, try to have them drink 1 cup (250ml) of water per hour for 4 hours. If they are vomiting or have diarrhoea, try specially prepared children’s rehydration drinks, which you can buy from your local pharmacy.
Babies and young children are more at risk of severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency.
Last reviewed: December 2017