Raising a child means teaching them a lot of important life-lessons and many parents are aware that this includes healthy dietary habits. While you may be starting your child’s morning with a glass of water to go with breakfast, you may be among the parents who worry that their children don’t drink enough water during the school day. Children become mildly dehydrated very easily and this places unnecessary strain on the body, as it struggles to maintain itself without enough of the substance that makes all life and every cellular process possible: water.
Why are children more vulnerable to dehydration than adults?
As many adults will know, when a child is ill, maybe with a small case of diarrhoea and vomiting, dehydration can have severe consequences to their health. In fact, even mild dehydration can cause a range of symptoms that prevent your child’s body from functioning at its best. That's why teaching children to drink enough of the healthiest beverage on earth – water – is an important task that parents and educators must tackle to encourage healthy habits. This is because a baby’s body consists of 75 percent water. This gradually declines with age and by adulthood, the body has 55 to 60 percent water. At the same time, the ratio of skin surface exposed to water loss compared to the volume of the body is higher than that of adults. Children therefore must maintain a higher level of hydration than adults but will lose more water per unit of body mass than adults do. Just to add an element of complexity to the equation, the thirst signal only kicks in when a child is already suffering from mild to moderate dehydration.
What are the consequences of dehydration: dehydration symptoms to look out for
When dehydration begins to set in, everything slows down. Neither the mind nor body can function as well as they should. This far-from-ideal state impacts on everything from mood, academic results and sporting performance. Typically, dehydration causes a child to:
- Struggle to concentrate in class and after-school clubs
- Have difficulty thinking clearly
- Suffer from headaches
- Be inclined to crankiness, temper tantrums, or weepiness
The result? A child with dehydration will be unable to perform well and will be inclined to difficult behaviours. As dehydration approaches the danger-zone, physical symptoms begin to show. The skin and lips are dry, urination becomes less frequent with dark, concentrated urine being passed and when the child cries, there are no tears. While chronic dehydration requires medical attention, dehydration remedies such as rehydration solutions help with moderate dehydration, and the best cure for mild dehydration is simplest of all – give your child a drink of water.
How much water should children drink?
The Natural Hydration Council recommends following a general rule of 1-1.7 litres of water per day, which translates to 4-6 glasses. It would be difficult to give an exact measurement of how much water children should drink because individual factors come into play. These include:
- Your child’s age: Children need to drink more as they grow.
- Your child’s stature: Children who are big for their age will need more water than their peers.
- Participation in exercise or physical activity: If you have a little powerhouse of a child who loves to run, play, and participate in sport, he or she needs more water.
- The weather: Hot, sunny days are great for outdoor activities but also indicate the need for more water.
- The indoor environment: Heating and air conditioning dry out the air causing more water loss through the skin and an increased need for water.
How parents can help their children hydrate?
- Make water your favourite drink: Children learn from their parents and immediate surroundings. Pass on the hydration message by drinking water throughout the day.
- Provide a reusable water bottle: Make it easy for your child to drink water by providing a water bottle. If cartoon characters or favourite colours will motivate them to use it, use the opportunity to get a water bottle your child will love.
- Explain why drinking water is so important: Get your child working with you. Explain why waiting till you’re thirsty before drinking water is a problem, talk about the effects of dehydration and ask your child to drink water during the school day.
What can schools do to help?
Sometimes, a child won’t drink tap water, leaving parents and guardians asking themselves, why not? Invariably, the sensitive taste buds of a child could pick up the taste of water treatment chemicals in tap water. With dehydration affecting health, classroom and exam performance, many schools are making swift moves to address the hydration problem by installing water dispensers on school grounds and providing an alternative to sugary drinks.
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