Water is an essential part of who we are, making up around 60% of our bodies. Teaching kids to drink enough water can be a spectrum of success, with some that are naturally drawn to it, whilst others need extra encouragement.
Children up to 8 years of age should be drinking at least 4-5 cups of clean, fresh water a day (around 1.25 litres). This amount can increase during the summer months, intense inside heating during winter, during an illness or with lots of running around.
Talking to your kids about what water does for our bodies can help them understand how it impacts them, and what they might notice about their bodies if they become dehydrated. The following points are a good start to the conversation:
- Water helps our bodies digest the food we eat by breaking it down into smaller nutrients. Think about spinach leaves being broken down into vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, calcium and magnesium starting from when we chew.
- The nutrients from our food are carried around our bodies to where they are needed with the help of water, taking calcium into our bones and magnesium into our muscles.
- Water helps to carry waste out of our body. Insoluble fibre and waste from the food we eat, waste products our body creates when we are sick, and waste created from all the work our body does. Think of a building site – broken bricks, extra timber, bent nails – a healthy body is built to rid itself of rubbish for a tidy workspace.
- Water helps to regulate our body temperature, like when we sweat in summer to cool down.
- Dehydration can lead to a dry or sticky mouth, headaches, rumbling tummies, tired muscles and a foggy head making it hard to concentrate at school.
- Ask your child to report back on their toilet habits. What colour is their urine? Is it dark yellow like apple juice, or pale like lemon juice? Are their bowel motions easy to pass or are they straining? Does it look like rabbit poo? Time to drink more water!
Developing good hydration habits is so important for kids, but the benefits continue throughout the lifespan, helping to reduce associated health risks. Some ideas for promoting good habits include:
- Always ensure your child has access to their water wherever they are. Pack a drink bottle that can fit in their backpack for school or outings.
- Get your kids involved in choosing their own (BPA free) drink bottle or cup in a favourite colour or design. Stainless steel can be a great option as they are sturdy and great for keeping drinks cool in summer.
- Serve water with meals rather than juice or soft drinks. An exclusive cup or straw, a slice of orange or kiwi fruit or a big juicy strawberry perched on the rim can spark interest (and add to their daily food rainbow).
- For kids who are not naturally big water drinkers, a reward system can be helpful to start creating a positive habit. A sticker or point system can work well here depending on the interests or level of development for your child.
- Transitioning from sweetened drinks may seem challenging for sweet tooths. Try adding excitement to water by adding flavours with herbal teabags (peppermint, fennel, chamomile or lemon balm are great options!), frozen berries, chopped fruit and veggies (think celery and cucumber) and herbs such as mint or lemongrass.
Developing positive hydration habits early can have a vast impact on growth and development, and help to prevent health issues as children grow. Staying hydrated can help kids flourish in the classroom and in the playground, reducing sugar cravings and also helping to make better food choices as a result.