5 Tips to keep your kids hydrated

From the desk of
Nicki Violetti
Science5 Tips to keep your kids hydrated

If you have kids, supporting their health is probably one of your biggest priorities. And one key element of their health is hydration. But it’s not always easy to keep them hydrated in a healthy way. They go to a friend’s house and slurp down three or four juice boxes. They beg for that soda at the store. Sugary “sports drinks” are handed out during their soccer matches.

Who can blame them? These beverages appeal to an appetite for sugar that is deeply rooted in our biology. This desire has permeated our evolutionary ancestors for millions of years, when scarce and valuable sweet foods meant survival. On top of that, sugary beverages cause a whopping release of dopamine, which makes your kids want more and more.

I’m not saying we should deny kids an occasional treat — but they shouldn’t reach for glorified sugar water every time they feel dehydrated either. And while plain water is a better choice than sugar-loaded sports drinks, water is only half of the hydration equation.

Optimal hydration is about achieving the right fluid-to-electrolyte balance. And just like adults, kids need electrolytes too. Reading that, you may be thinking: Ugh, now I need to get my kids on electrolytes too?

Not quite. There are plenty of electrolyte-rich foods you can incorporate into your kids’ diets (and yours, too!). And there are plenty of tasty ways to make electrolyte drinks for kids specifically. My kids actually prefer these electrolyte drinks to water, and they’re healthier for it. In this article I’ll explore the basics of hydration for kids, including practical tips. Stick around!

How Much Water Do Kids Need?

I get some form of this question a lot. People want to know how much water their kids should drink each day. First of all, there isn’t a fixed amount of water that every human needs. It varies by person, sweat loss, diet, and other factors.

But wait. Aren’t we supposed to drink eight glasses of water per day? Yeah, I’ve heard that since I was a kid too. Not only is there zero evidence behind this rule, but drinking plain water beyond thirst can actually impair health by diluting blood sodium levels.

Thirst is a tightly calibrated impulse honed over millennia of evolution. Osmoreceptors in your brain are always measuring your blood volume, and when blood volume drops (due to low fluids), they signal a brain region called the hypothalamus to make you thirsty.

You drink something, blood volume is restored, and thirst dissipates. It’s an elegant system. The thirst mechanism is why healthy people (including healthy children) rarely become dehydrated. If your children are drinking when thirsty, then they’re getting enough water.

It’s up to us parents to ensure that adequate fluids are available. We can nudge our kids in the right direction, but it’s ultimately their job to heed their thirst. Now, I assume you didn’t come here to just read “drink to thirst.” That’s not very profound — not to mention, it’s only half of what it takes to be hydrated. The other half is electrolytes.

Kids Need Electrolytes Too

Electrolytes are minerals that conduct electrical charges in your body. This electricity conduction allows nerve impulses to fire and cells to communicate. It’s super important for your brain, heart, and muscles to function, not to mention your subjective energy levels.

Electrolytes also regulate fluid balance, or the partitioning of water throughout your tissues. When I talk about healthy hydration, I’m talking about fluid balance. It keeps your blood flowing, your skin moist, and much, much more.

The main electrolytes responsible for fluid balance are sodium and potassium. Unfortunately, most people are potassium deficient because they don’t eat enough leafy greens, potatoes, meat, and fruits. And most healthy people, children included, don’t get enough sodium because:

  1. Salt has a connotation of being “bad for your heart” without exception. Not true.
  2. Whole food diets contain very little sodium.
  3. Active people lose way more sodium through sweat than they often realize.

If you remember one thing from this article, remember that hydration isn’t just about water — electrolytes matter too.

5 Tips to Keep Your Kids Hydrated

Let’s move to the practical stuff now. Here are some tips to keep your kids healthy, hydrated, and feeling good.

#1: Make fluids available

Step one is to ensure your kids have easy access to fluids. This might look like sending your child to school with a bottle of water and an easy, grab-and-go drink mix like LMNT. Or you might prepare a large volume of homemade electrolyte drinks when your child has a sporting event. For younger children, it might help to occasionally ask: “Are you thirsty?”

The key is to plan ahead. Hot days require more fluids, though cold days (and especially winter sports) have their own set of challenges.

#2: Emphasize thirst

Conventional advice urges us to drink more water, no matter what. But this is bad advice because drinking beyond thirst can inundate your body with water. Take it too far, and dangerous electrolyte imbalances like hyponatremia (low blood sodium) can result.

Tell your kids that drinking to thirst is all they need — and if they aren’t thirsty, that’s okay. Explain that it will make them better at sports, better at school, and more like their favorite superhero. Make it about their favorite things and they’ll usually listen.

#3: Communicate why sugar is bad

One of the biggest challenges of parenting is getting your kid to understand the detriments of habitual sugar consumption. Sure, you can keep sugary drinks out of the house, but it’s difficult to regulate sugar intake at school, a neighbor’s place, or when grandma comes to visit.

In those instances, if your kid wants sugar and they’re quite young, it might feel unfair to them to have it withheld. The ideal scenario is that you’re able to help your kid want to avoid sugar. That’s no easy task, I know. Sugar is what their brain and taste buds crave.

Rather than enforce a prohibition against sugar, try to explain why sugar is bad in a way that resonates with your child. For example, you might ask “Do you like going to the dentist?”

When the inevitable strikes, follow up with “Me neither. That’s why I don’t drink soda or fruit juice. It’s bad for your teeth. It’ll give you cavities, then I’ll have to take you to Dr. Rosenberg’s office.”

Or if your little one is obsessed with Captain America, explain that he stays strong by eating whole foods and avoiding sugar. He probably does! You get the idea.

#4: Make it fun

Even when fluids are available, not all kids will hydrate properly. They might be fussy about flavor or defiant of doing what they’re told. Whatever the reason, you may need to spice it up. The best tool in your box is flavor. To make water more palatable, you might add:

  • Lemon juice
  • An electrolyte drink mix like LMNT
  • Slices of citrus fruits
  • A dash of stevia

We also have tons of LMNT Recipes online that appeal to kids and grown ups, including Citrus Salt Ice Cubes, Raspberry Mint Popsicles, and more. On a hot day, those popsicles could put the ice cream truck out of business.

Lastly, consider the visual and tactile side of hydration. A water bottle covered in stickers of things they love can go a long way. And you have to admit, swirly straws are just plain fun. Lastly, don’t forget to use positive reinforcement. Sincere praise is a powerful tool to shape human behavior.

#5: Use LMNT

A lot of people have asked me if LMNT is safe for kids. It’s more than just safe — it’s healthy. LMNT contains only electrolytes, stevia, citric acid, malic acid, and natural flavors. No sugar, dodgy ingredients, or junk of any kind. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more convenient way to support optimal hydration with essential minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. 

We created LMNT to be the kind of electrolyte drink mix that we would give to our kids. And that’s exactly what we do! Every day before jiu jitsu, I mix LMNT into water bottles for my two girls: Zoe and Sagan. Zoe loves Citrus Salt, and Sagan is our raspberry monster.

For younger kids, I recommend using half a stick pack — not the full thing. They’re little, so they don’t need quite as much electrolytes as we do. The bottom line is that LMNT is a fun and tasty way to keep your kids hydrated.

One last note before I sign off: I hope you’ve found this helpful and that you’ll use what you learned today to keep your kids hydrated in a healthy way. Whether they appreciate it for the taste or for their health doesn’t matter — we covered both!

Comments are closed.