How to keep your kid hydrated this summer

Dehydration can put a damper on hot summer days. Here’s how to recognize the signs.

kid drinking water while camping

Photo: iStockphoto

It was an unusually hot June afternoon in Toronto when Michelle Williams got a call from her six-year-old son’s school to say Immanuel wasn’t feeling well. When she picked him up, he was in a daze and, once home, went straight to lie down on the couch. By dinnertime, Williams couldn’t wake him up. Terrified, she called 911, and Immanuel was rushed to the hospital. It turns out he was dehydrated—his class had gone on a walking excursion that morning, and he hadn’t drunk anything since.

Doctors gave him fluids by IV, and when he started to improve, they sent him out to the waiting room with some electrolyte drinks. “It was like night and day. Within half an hour, he was back to his normal, bouncy, chatty self,” says Williams.

When a child is dehydrated, the fluid and salt balances in his body are out of whack, and proper nutrients and fluids can’t get to his tissues, explains Michelle Ponti, a paediatrician in London, Ont., and a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s public education advisory committee. And on hot summer days, it can happen quickly if the moisture lost by sweating isn’t replenished.

If your child seems low on energy, irritable or just not herself, it might be a sign she’s getting dehydrated. At this point, you should give her something to drink to see if she improves. Decreased urination; dry lips, mouth and tongue; sunken eyes and lack of tears are signs of severe dehydration. Ponti says you can give your child an oral rehydration solution (like Pedialyte) that you can buy at a drugstore, but because dehydration can be fatal, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor for advice, even if the symptoms seem mild.

Better than treating dehydration is avoiding it altogether. Because kids can get distracted easily when they are running around playing, and children under five have a hard time recognizing or verbalizing that they are thirsty, Ponti suggests reminding them to drink several times an hour on hot days. Children ages four to eight normally need five cups of water a day, but on a hot day they will need more, so be sure to pack accordingly.

Water, milk and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices are your best options for keeping hydrated. “We would never recommend pop, sports drinks or vitamin waters, even though they can be marketed to kids,” says Ponti.

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