Playing outdoors is one of the joys of childhood. It’s so much fun, in fact, that kids often can’t be bothered to stop for a drink of water. But children’s bodies don’t adjust as well to high temperatures as they will later in life, so the risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke is actually greater for children.
And the younger the child, the greater the risk. Very young children may not have the necessary language skills to explain what’s causing them discomfort when they’re thirsty, and at that age they are not usually in control of whether they stay outside or go in. Even older children and teens—who know very well how to express themselves—may become so involved in a game that they don’t realize how thirsty they have become.
Signs of Dehydration
Children aren’t likely to recognize the warning signs of dehydration—they’re too busy having fun. So it’s up to parents, coaches, and caregivers to monitor them and watch for the warning signs before trouble occurs. Keep an eye out for:
- unsteadiness or dizziness
- children taking fewer bathroom breaks, or fewer wet diapers in younger children
- complaints of headache or tiredness
- flushed skin
- confusion, cramps, or irritability.
If you notice any of these symptoms of dehydration, take the child out of the sun and into a cool place as soon as possible. Encourage the child to sip cool liquids, but never soda: caffeine and sugar drain water from the body.
When to Hydrate, and How Much to Drink
Heat-induced illness is preventable, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Children should drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after playing or exercising.
Other Tips for Preventing Heat Illnesses
- Have children practice sports early in the day, before the heat builds, or later, when it’s cooler.
- Dress them in lightweight, light-colored clothing. For sports that require bulky equipment, children should practice in light clothing for several days to get acclimated, and avoid heavy gear on hot days.
- Young athletes should acclimate to the heat over the course of two weeks by engaging in workouts that slowly increase in intensity and duration.
- On hot days, children engaged in sports need a drink about every 20 minutes. The AAP recommends at least 5 ounces for those under 90 pounds and 9 ounces for those weighing more than 130 pounds. (One ounce equals approximately two kid-size gulps.)