Summer brings lots of fun, but also some serious heat! Some areas of the U.S. can be so hot, it can actually pose some danger to kids at times. Kids can easily become dehydrated, leading to possible heat stroke or sudden illness. This summer, we want to be sure that your family stays safe and healthy, so we’ve come up with a guide on how to beat the heat and prevent dehydration!
1. Hot Ground
On hot days, some sidewalks could probably fry an egg! The ground can get so hot, it could be pretty painful to walk on barefoot, which is why pretty much everyone is going out and about in shoes. But one thing to consider is that the soles of children’s shoes, especially infants’, can be quite thin. When walking on the hot ground even in shoes, their feet might be a lot hotter than yours if their shoes are thin and rubbery. Since small children can’t always express exactly what’s wrong, they might feel uncomfortable and not be able to tell you. You can prevent this by making sure they’re wearing proper shoes and their feet are protected!
Another big one to look out for regarding the scorching pavement is that naturally it collects heat, which then rises. Adults are less likely to notice or feel the heat rising from the ground, since they’re usually much taller than kids, so it may not even occur to them that kids are experiencing things differently. Since children are shorter, they are much closer to the ground and can feel the heat rising from the ground rather intensely. Adults usually just feel heat from the sun and air, while children are getting heat from the sun, air, and heat rising from cement and blacktop. Be sure to keep this in mind when walking together outside on a hot day for long periods of time.
A major key factor to preventing heat stroke in children and adults is by staying properly hydrated. The human body is said to be made up of about 60% water! Knowing this, we need to take the proper steps to stay hydrated every day. Typically at around 6 months, babies can be introduced to water. They only need about 4-8 ounces per day until they are a year old, because the rest of their liquids are coming from breastmilk or formula. To stay well hydrated, children ages 1-3 years need approximately 4 cups of beverages per day, including water or milk. This increases for older kids to around 5 cups for 4-8 year olds, and 7-8 cups for older children. This being said, the amount of fluid a child will need in a day can change dramatically depending on the heat. On hot days and days where your child is very physically active, they should increase their fluid intake.
Since children can’t always tell you when they’re thirsty or dehydrated, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs. Infants 0-6 months should only be drinking breast milk or formula. Additional water is not recommended at this age. Around 6 months, complementary foods and small amounts of water can be added. If you are worried that your infant is not getting enough to drink, call your pediatrician immediately. The most noticeable symptoms of dehydration in this age are:
- Fewer wet diapers, with the typical range being from 6 to 8
- Overly sleepy
- Sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on the baby’s head
- No tears when crying
As children get older, they are better able to tell you how they are feeling. However, it is still necessary to keep an eye on them since children at play often have a hard time stopping and knowing when it’s time for a water break. Symptoms in older children include:
- Dry lips or sticky mouth
- Less urination or dark-colored urine – remember urine should be very light yellow, almost clear
- Sleepy and irritable
- Flushed skin
In teens, dehydration is a big risk especially if they do high-intensity workouts or heavy team practices. Most common signs for this age group are:
- Dry lips or mouth
- Dark or less urine
- Rapid pulse
- Flushed skin
- Feeling excessively hot or cold
3. Heat Related Illnesses
If your children do become dehydrated or overwhelmed in the heat, they are at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here’s how you can tell the difference between the two.
Heat exhaustion. This occurs from excessive sweating, causing dehydration and for the core body temperature to rise. If this happens, move your child out of sunlight to a cool place, rehydrate with cool water, wear light, cool clothes and use cold towels or ice packs to lower your child’s body temperature. To be safe, if your child’s symptoms are concerning or last more than an hour, talk with your pediatrician.
Heat stroke. Sometimes called sun stroke, heat stroke is the most serious. It is when the body overheats to a point where it begins to shut down. If your child is confused or unresponsive, has a rapid pulse, or a temperature over 103 degrees, immediate medical treatment is needed.
4. Staying Hydrated
Being active is important all year round but during sports or other physical activities, your child may need additional water to prevent dehydration. For example, when taking part in sports, make sure your child drinks water before, during and after practices or games.
When exercising vigorously or sweating, children from 9-12 years of age generally need to drink about 3–8 ounces of water every 20 minutes to stay hydrated. Teens need to drink about 34–50 ounces per hour. It is helpful to stay well hydrated in the days and hours before activity begins. While playing at the park may not bring the same level of intensity, if your child is sweating, make sure they are adequately replacing fluids.
If vigorous exercise extends beyond 1 hour in a day or your child is sweating a lot, electrolyte-supplemented beverages may be necessary.
Drinks to Steer Clear of
Water and milk are all the drinks kids need. So don’t believe all the hype surrounding many of the other drinks marketed to kids. These usually contain way more sugar than children need in a day and can contribute to poor health. Here’s what to avoid:
Sugary drinks. Try to limit them for your children as much as possible. This includes sports drinks, juice, sodas, lemonade, and sweetened water. These drinks discourage the good habit of drinking plain water, and can add extra “empty calories” to the diet. They can also leave your kids less hungry for the nutritious foods they really need. Added sugars can lead to excess weight gain, dental cavities, diabetes, and more.
Juice. Even 100% juice should be limited. While it can contain some beneficial vitamins, these drinks are high in sugar and calories and low in the healthy fiber found in whole fruit. Because of its sweet taste, once children are offered juice, it can be difficult to get them to drink plain water.
Flavored milk. Even though you get the benefits of the calcium and vitamins found in milk, flavored milk can be much higher in sugar. These added sugars should be avoided to discourage a preference for sweet flavors, which can make it difficult to have success when offering regular milk.
Stevia, or artificially sweetened drinks. Because health risks for children from stevia and artificial sweeteners are not well understood, it is best to avoid these drinks. Instead, make water readily available to encourage healthy hydration.
Keep these amounts in mind:
- Children less than a year should not drink any juice at all.
- Children 1-3 years of age should have no more than 4 oz per day.
- For older children, juice is only recommended if whole fruits are not available. Children ages 4–6 years, no more than 4–6 oz per day, and for children ages 7–18, no more than 8 oz per day.
Other Ways to Get Fluids
Water doesn’t have to be boring! There are plenty of ways to entice everyone in the family to drink healthy and stay hydrated throughout the day. Being a good role model yourself is a great way to help make water part of your children’s routine and get them into the habit of drinking water BEFORE they’re thirsty. Here are a few twists to add some fun:
- Infuse water with lemons, berries, cucumber or mint for some added flavor. This is an easy way to keep the whole family coming back for refills.
- Keep fruits and vegetables that are high in water content handy – and there are plenty of them. Some of the best vegetables to choose from are cucumber, zucchini, iceberg lettuce, celery, and tomato. Top fruits include watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, and grapefruit.
- Freeze fruit inside ice cubes. It dresses up the drinks at any table, and young children can help fill the trays.
- Give kids some special water bottles or cups. Whether it is a personalized sports bottle or a fancy cup with an umbrella or swirly straw, adding a festive touch can go a long way and motivate them to drink more water.
- Make your own popsicles with pureed fruit for an afternoon cool-down. Make it a fun family activity by using small paper cups. Let your kids decorate them before filling or look for popsicle molds in fun shapes and colors.
We wish you a fun-filled and well-hydrated summer! Be sure to try out some of these hydration tips and stay safe out there!