Last weekend, my 10 year-old son went on a camping trip with a group of boys, dads, and big plans to fearlessly take on the North Carolina wilderness. It happened to be our first warm weekend after a way too long and rainy winter; Saturday's high temp was in the low 80's and the sun was intense. I was surprised to receive a phone call around 7pm from one of the camp dads letting me know that my guy had experienced a headache, dizziness, and vomiting. They thought he'd gotten overheated, dehydrated, and was experiencing some heat illness. By the looks of him when I arrived to pick him up, they were exactly right! Despite being a very fit athlete and having a nagging nutritionist mom, heat exhaustion was the diagnosis of the day.
While, he may have missed out on the best campfire ever, my son learned an invaluable life lesson. Heat illness is a really big deal. Potentially fatal, in fact. It can sneak up on you very quickly. He was reminded that hydration takes work and conscious effort. I'm grateful for his experience and especially for the quick-thinking dads who got him into the shade, cooled off, and fluids into him ASAP.
Keeping Kids Hydrated
Dehydrated bodies heat up faster. When our bodies are too hot, they can't perform optimally and safely. Kids' bodies may be more susceptible to heat and dehydration than adults because they can have higher sweat rates, a greater surface area to body weight ratio, and a higher percentage of body water. Hydration needs are highly individualized because people sweat at very different rates, but kids who are unfit, overweight, have certain medical conditions, or take specific medications may be particularly prone to dehydration. Being sick - especially with a fever or diarrhea is a bigtime risk as well.
Here's a chart from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showing basic daily fluid needs for kids:
Kids Total Daily Water Requirements
Age Range Gender Total Water (Liters/Day)
4-8 years Girls & boys 1.3
9-13 years Girls 2.1
14-18 years Girls 2.3
1L = about 32 ounces
Learn more here.
Be aware signs and symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Child finds it hard or impossible to keep playing
Loss of coordination, dizziness or fainting
Dehydration (thirsty, headache, irritable, seeming bored or disinterested, cramps, excessive fatigue, decreased performance)
Profuse sweating or pale skin
Headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Stomach/intestinal cramps or persistent muscle cramps
TREATMENT for Heat Exhaustion
Immediately move child to cool, shaded, or air-conditioned area
Remove extra clothing or equipment
Cool with cold water and towels on the head
Move child to a comfortable position with legs raised above heart
Have child drink water or sports drink (or fluid with sugar and salt) if he or she is not vomiting
Take child's temperature if possible. If >104, seek emergency medical care.
If condition does not improve rapidly, see emergency medical care.
Be familiar with signs and symptoms of Exertional Heat Stroke, a serious condition that involves extremely high body temperatures. It can cause permanent health problems and even death. Read more here.
(There can be negative consequences to over-drinking and that's not what we're pushing for here...a good rule of thumb is drinking enough fluids to urinate clear to pale yellow urine every couple hours).
2. Teach kids to drink on a schedule. This requires planning ahead to have fluids available. 3 to 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes of activity or play is recommended, especially on warm days.
3. Rely on foods to help with the hydration process. Fruits, veggies, soups, yogurt, sauces, popsicles, pudding, and sorbet/frozen yogurt contain significant amounts of liquid (in addition to electrolytes) and "count" toward hydration. Fried foods, high fat and high sugar foods, and very salty foods in the absence of adequate fluids are dehydrators.
Cheers to a safe and fun hot season!