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Teaching Children Proper Hydration: How Parents Can help

What Is Dehydration?

Our bodies operate by a simple principle of balance. Our normal diet of food and drink is designed to replace what we typically use up in our bodies as we go about our day. Our hunger and thirst mechanisms help us know when our bodies are low on energy (protein and sugar) or fluids. When we exert ourselves more such as with exercise (or even during illness), our bodies need more energy and fluids because our bodies are working overtime and are using up stores of sugars, salts and fluids.

If we don't replace the fluids, sugars and salts we lose during exercise, our bodies stay depleted of those things and that is when we become dehydrated.

The symptoms of dehydration are relatively "standard" in both adults and kids. There is, however, one major difference: kids and young teens don't sense thirst as well and they don't show signs of dehydration until much later in the dehydration process than older teens or adults. As, a result, by the time a child or young teen is showing signs of dehydration, they are more severely dehydrated than an older child would be with the same symptoms.

To add insult to injury, regardless of age, by the time a person has the symptoms you usually read about, they are in need of an IV.

Here's the list of symptoms I'm sure you are familiar with:

  • Thirsty
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tired or Weak feeling
  • Urine is bright yellow in color
  • Apathy or lack of energy
  • Grumpiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Nausea

Where kids are concerned, the more symptoms a child has, the more severely dehydrated he is. And, thirst is often a late and unreliable sign. Another issue that confuses people is how to interpret the child who sweats. Sweat is fluid loss and that fluid contains water, sugar and salts. If your child is sweating during a game, your child is at risk of becoming dehydrated. The best way to avoid that is to have sports drinks on hand for your child to drink at every opportunity.
Kids should know the warning signs

So, what should you have your kids monitor for while playing a sport? How they feel overall. If they are becoming dizzy while playing, their energy is dropping, or they feel their hearts are pounding faster than normal, they are becoming dehydrated. Many kids also complain of feeling very nauseous and some may actually vomit. A child with these symptoms should not continue to play but should sit on the bench and drink, drink and drink some more. If the child can't drink or continues to vomit, that child needs to go the ER.

How to Hydrate and When

The best game plan for hydration is to have kids pre-hydrate with a sports drink before a game and continue drinking throughout a game and after. Eating a snack before a game containing some sugar and salt also helps. This is where sports bars come in very handy. So, send your kids to school with a sports drink and make sure there are plenty more on hand during the game. While many teams now have sports drinks on the sideline in place of water, many are still sticking to just water. Water is not going to do the trick.

It is also important for an athlete to pre-hydrate throughout the day leading up to the game. An athlete will perform better if their hydration status at game time is perfect. The best way for kids to achieve this is to drink well all day long. This is where water comes in as well as any fluids the child wants to drink. While there is no proof that 8 glasses a water a day is the "magic" number, it does give kids a concrete goal to aim for and something they can do in the days leading up to every game.