It’s important to drink plenty of water, especially during the summer months when outdoor temperatures rise. If your children are playing sports or involved in other physical activities, they need more water than normal to prevent dehydration.

Pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says that how much water your child needs depends on how hard they will be playing. “The hotter the temperature and the more strenuous the activity, and the larger your child is, the more water they need to drink around the time they are physically active.”

How much water should my child be drinking?
Kids are at a higher risk for dehydration and heat illness compared to adults because children have a lower sweating capacity and produce more heat during physical activity. To determine how many ounces of water your child should be getting each day, take their weight in pounds and divide it in half.

“If you have a child who weighs 80 pounds, half of that is 40. Forty ounces of water at minimum is how much water that child should drink every day when physically active,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

To stay well hydrated, encourage your child to drink water before, during, and after practices or games or other strenuous activity.

When exercising vigorously or sweating, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 9-12 years of age drink about 3–8 ounces of water every 20 minutes to stay hydrated. Teens need to drink about 34–50 ounces per hour.

“And then after their high-intensity activity, it’s helpful to hydrate again with about 16 ounces of water,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Signs of dehydration in kids
Older children are better able to tell you how they are feeling; however, they may be so engaged in play that they don’t stop when they are feeling poorly. Some signs of dehydration to watch for are:

  • Dry lips or sticky mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • Less urination or dark-colored urine (urine should be light yellow, almost clear)
  • Sleepy and irritable

In teens, look for these additional signs:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Cramps
  • Thirst
  • Dark or less urine
  • Headache
  • Rapid pulse
  • Feeling excessively hot or cold

If you are concerned your child may be dehydrated or suffering from a heat-related illness, call your pediatrician. If your child becomes extremely lethargic or unresponsive, vomits, stops sweating, or complains of severe abdominal pain, head to your local emergency room or call 911. While these cases are less common, getting help quickly is crucial.

Stick with plain water
Water should be the primary hydration source for children during physical activity, and sports drinks should only be used during times of high intensity and prolonged athletic events.

For most kids, Dr. Bradshaw says, water is all they need to stay hydrated. “Water is your best hydration fluid, so just stick with water.”