Detecting when your child is dehydrated can be tricky. The first step is to make sure both you and your child know the warning signs, which include:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • confusion
  • extreme fussiness or sleepiness
  • decreased urine output (going eight hours or more without urination)
  • few or no tears when crying
  • dry skin
  • constipation

Calculating how much fluid a child drinks in a day may not top your list of things to do, but it should be considered when striving for a healthy regimen. Here are some other things to know to ensure your child stays hydrated:

Quality and Quantity

Most kids need at least 6 cups of fluid per day. One cup is equivalent to 240 milliliters or 8 ounces depending on the measuring instruments you use. Quality is just as important as quantity. Avoid sodas, caffeinated beverages, and artificial chemicals and colors in drinks. Choose milk that is less than 2 percent for children over age 2, and choose juice that contains 100 percent fruit juice.

Pudding Counts (sort of)

Foods that become liquids at room temperature count toward fluid needs. Soup, pudding, sorbet, smoothies, yogurt and ice pops can rehydrate a child’s body, but you should focus on whole foods to maintain balance. Ice cream, ice pops and whole-milk puddings should be seen as treats and not consumed on a regular basis.

Get Your Electrolytes

When children are physically active for more than 45 minutes, give them something other than water to replenish the electrolytes. Parents may be confused that energy drinks are marketed to kids. As a general rule, children don't need the stimulation provided by caffeine and other chemicals found in energy drinks, nor the high amount of sugar in sports drinks. Here are a few alternatives:

  1. Coconut water provides lots of electrolytes. One cup has as much potassium as a banana. Sports drinks contain potassium, but coconut water has it naturally and does not include artificial colors and unnecessary sugar.
  2. Homemade sports drinks can be made by mixing 50 percent juice and 50 percent water with a pinch of salt. One pinch or 1/16 of a teaspoon of salt is all you need to replenish the salt a child normally loses during exertion. Kids over age 10 will need two pinches of salt.
  3. Milk does the body good, especially after physical activity. Milk is hydrating and full of protein, natural sugar, potassium and vitamin D, all of which are important refueling nutrients.

The Hydration Challenge

If you want to see how your child measures up on liquid intake, try this experiment:

Take a pitcher or container and determine how much it holds. For every cup of fluid that is consumed, measure the same amount of fluid and add it to the pitcher. Continue the experiment for a 24-hour period. Tally up your total and compare it to the recommended levels: at least 6 cups of fluid for children and 8 cups of fluid for adults.

The human body works best under proper hydration and nutrition. So raise your glasses and drink down a key nutrient to keeping kids healthy…fluid!

Brandi Thompson RD, LD/N is a nutrition expert (aka Registered Dietitian) with 11 years experience. When she is not coaching adults and children with their nutrition and wellness needs, she is a stay at home mom of 2 young children. Read more from Brandi Thompson:, or