Many people report that they don’t drink as much water as they believe they should. You might have a refillable water bottle that you use to help you meet your daily hydration goal.
But what about your kids? How many cups of water should your child drink each day? How can you make sure your child is properly hydrated? Here’s what parents need to know about their kids’ daily water intake.
Why Does the Body Need So Much Water?
Water is one of the most important resources for the human body. Under extreme conditions, the human body can survive for as long as a month without food.
You can only survive about three days without water. It’s an essential building block for the function of the human body, which is why it’s so crucial to make sure you’re getting enough water.
The Body Is Mostly Made of Water
More than half of the human body is made of water. The body uses and cycles water frequently. Without a continuous intake of water, the body cannot replenish the water that it uses.
The Body Uses Water for Repair
Water is vital for healthy muscles, organs, and skin. While you sleep, your body starts to work on repairing the normal wear and tear damage of the day. It uses water and protein to repair and strengthen tissue, helping to ward off soreness after a day of physical activity.
If your child isn’t getting enough water, they may experience long-lasting muscle aches after soccer practice. Their skin may get dry, and they may experience muscle cramps.
Water Plays an Important Role In Digestion
When you eat food, it’s liquified by the stomach before it passes to the small intestine.
The fiber in food draws water from the body to make stool easier to pass, and a low-fiber diet or dehydration can make it difficult to empty the bowels. Children who don’t drink enough water might experience constipation.
Water Is Part of Your Natural Cooling System
When your child is running around on the playground in spring or summer, they’re going to get warm. When this happens, their body sends sweat to the surface of the skin, where it’s evaporated, helping them to feel cool.
If your child has been sweating, they’ve lost water and electrolytes, which are minerals that regulate hydration. Your child needs plenty of water and a light snack to rehydrate their body and replenish lost electrolytes.
What Happens If Kids Don’t Drink Enough Water?
The most common signs of dehydration are dry mouth, a decrease in the frequency of urination, and an increase in thirst. Thirst is a lot like hunger, and the body knows when it needs water and will send out a thirst cue.
Whenever your child says they’re thirsty, give them some water. It’s very unlikely that your child will drink too much water, and you want to encourage them to honor their body’s natural cues.
Severe dehydration occurs when the body lacks water and electrolytes. In severe cases of dehydration, your child may feel lightheaded and experience heart palpitations. Severe dehydration usually only occurs when a child is very ill and is vomiting or having diarrhea. It can also occur if a child is engaged in high activity levels under the hot sun for a long time.
How Much Water Should Kids Drink Every Day
A child’s needs will naturally increase as they age. Needs are proportionate to the size of the human body. Picture a bodybuilder holding a gallon of water.
Now picture a gallon of water next to a newborn baby. It’s pretty clear that those two people don’t need the same amount of water. Keep fluid intake in proportion with your child’s age and size.
Under One Year Old
Children under a year old have very small stomachs and get most of their fluids through breastfeeding or formula. You don’t need to give a baby plain water. They’re getting enough fluids from their liquid diet.
At around six months of age, you can generally introduce small amounts of water into your child’s diet if you’d like to — just don’t give them more than six ounces of water per day. You can also wait until they’re off of breastmilk or formula to introduce plain water into their diet.
Ages One to Three
Children between the ages of one to three need about four cups of liquid a day for adequate hydration. For reference, four cups is 32 ounces, or two standard-sized bottles of drinking water.
Babies should be off of formula by one year. The American Academy of Pediatrics and WHO (World Health Organization) encourage supplementary breastfeeding for up to two years. If you’re following these guidelines, you can count breastmilk towards your toddler’s fluid intake.
Ages Four to Eight
Four to eight-year-old children should have at least five cups of liquid a day. This is the age when many children start playing sports or participating in other types of active outdoor play.
Active children should probably have a little more water, especially if they’re sweating or they’re outside in the heat. Children can get dehydrated rather quickly. Always bring extra water when you’re on an adventure.
Over Eight Years Old
After they turn eight years old, children have the same hydration requirements as adults. Aim for roughly seven to eight cups of liquid a day.
What Drinks Count as Water?
It seems like people should be carefully monitoring their water intake in cups or ounces, but it’s a lot simpler than that. Your body is getting water from a lot of the things you eat and drink. Anything you consume with a high water content can help you meet your hydration goals. Any liquid beverage aside from alcohol, which children obviously should never consume) contains water.
The water content of foods like whole fruit counts towards your child’s daily water intake. A snack of watermelon slices and a glass of whole milk, for example is nutritionally valuable and very hydrating.
Any drink that isn’t full of added sugar or caffeine can count towards your child’s hydration goals. Energy drinks or sugary sports drinks, soda, and other sugary drinks defeat the purpose of making a healthy choice. They are water-based drinks but contain stimulants and added sugars that don’t have a place in a healthy child’s diet.
Fruit-essenced sparkling water, herbal tea, and fruit juice with no added sugar are fun alternatives to plain tap water. They also taste good, which just might encourage your child to drink more.
How Can You Help Your Kids Drink More Water?
Some kids are great about drinking plain filtered water. Other kids aren’t so into it. It doesn’t have to be a battle. You don’t have to convince your kid that plain still water is great. There are many different ways to make hydration appealing.
Bubbly Water Is Water, Too!
If you’re trying to keep soda out of the house, try sparkling water. Sparkling water has the bubbly appeal of soda, but without sugar and caffeine. Carbonated water is often made with naturally derived fruit flavors that make it more fun to drink than the plain stuff right from the tap.
Try Coconut Water or Agua Fresca
Coconut water and agua fresca are just as hydrating as regular water, but they naturally have a much stronger flavor. They’re also a little thicker than plain water. Kids who love fruit juice will be over the moon.
Just make sure you choose varieties made without added sugar. The fruit is sweet enough!
Find Non-Sugary, Non-Caffeinated Beverages Your Child Enjoys
Most pediatricians recommend that children drink dairy milk. In addition to helping your child meet their hydration requirements, dairy milk also provides protein, minerals, vitamins, and naturally occurring probiotics. It does a lot more for a growing body than plain water can.
Unsweetened chocolate almond milk counts as water. If that’s all your child will reliably drink, let them have a glass or two every day to meet their hydration goals.
Just keep in mind that most plant-based milks (with the exception of fortified soy milk) don’t have the same protein, vitamin, and mineral content as dairy milk. It also doesn’t have the same natural probiotic value as dairy. You might want to make some swaps in other areas or add some supplements to your child’s routine if dairy is off the table.
The Final Word on Water and Kids
It’s not as hard as it may seem to help your kids get enough water. Kids only need a few cups a day to stay hydrated. Many parents don’t realize that water doesn’t have to be just water.
Water can come from all kinds of foods and drinks — it’s okay if your child is still getting used to drinking plain water, just as long as they’re drinking something healthy!