By Jeri Kayser
We all know drinking water is important. After air, it is pretty much what we need to survive. We mostly consist of water and everything in our bodies work better with an adequate amount of water in them. Try explaining this to a toddler. Try explaining this to a toddler who is sick or has just had their tonsils out. Now try explaining this to a toddler who has discovered they can clamp their mouth shut and no one can make them drink, not even Mom. And whoa, this is so cool to have power over Mom!
This daunting task is universal throughout time and cultures and is more easily dealt with when you plan ahead rather than try to persuade your child to drink when they’re at risk of getting dehydrated. Also, dehydration can cause irritability and a killer headache, which brings out the best in absolutely no one. So, I’ve prepared a few tips for parents:
Drink water: Your child watches you closely. They’re going to be more inclined to drink if they see you drink, and they will be more inclined to drink water if they see you drink water. Plus, your body will appreciate it!
Serve it up cold: Water tastes better cold. Add some ice cubes because they’re fun. You can also add a little juice to the water in the ice cube tray to make the cubes even more fun with a splash of color.
Add slices of fruit: if it’s age appropriate, fruit adds just a touch of freshness and may also encourage more exploration of different fruits.
Find a fun water bottle: There are tons of water containers to choose from. Letting your child pick out a water bottle will help encourage their water intake. They might be inclined to pick one with a fun character, something “pretty,” or, if they’re older, something that fits best in their backpack or clips easiest on their sports bag.
Start early: Habits are best developed and maintained when started early. Have your child’s first beverages be milk or water so they begin to associate water with the way to quench thirst.
If your physician has directed you to encourage your child to drink because they are at risk of being dehydrated, here are some additional tips:
Encourage them to talk: When you say a few words, you swallow your saliva without thinking about it to be better understood. This is especially helpful if they are choosing not to swallow because of pain from a sore throat.
Licking feels less overwhelming than drinking: This is partially why Popsicles work so well. Frozen Popsicles are frozen liquids.
Use sibling rivalry: If there are other children in the household, let them have the popsicles as well. No kid wants a sibling to get something they aren’t getting.
Blenders are a giant toy: They have buttons, smash stuff and make a lot of noise—a really awesome toy! Experiment with smoothies.
Schedule tea party time: Drink out of novel containers, tea party dishes, syringes–whatever is appropriate and fun.
Use sticker charts: For kids, it is hard to understand why they need to drink, especially when they don’t feel well, so sticker charts can work great. We are all well motivated when we can easily see how we will benefit from our choices. Make a chart with your child and give them a sticker for whatever amount a fluid swallowed seems reasonable. Create a “sticker store” where they can “buy” things with various amounts of stickers. These items could be something like a coloring book or maybe an activity like choosing a book to be read to, whatever works best in your family.
Communicate with your doctor: They need to know how much your child is drinking so they can best care for your child. They will also be helpful on letting you know what the goals should be for the amount of fluids your child needs.
Communicate with your child: Don’t underestimate your child’s capacity to understand that drinking is important. Even at a very young age children are actively involved in taking care of their bodies: baths and brushing teeth are good examples. They are able to understand that drinking is one more thing they can do for themselves to feel their best.
Jeri Kayser has been a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota since 1985. Her educational background is in child development and psychology. She has three children who have been a great source of anecdotes to help illustrate developmental perspective. They’re good sports about it.