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A Minnesotan currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Designing products that help you align your work + wellness. Visit my about page.

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I got a message through Instagram the other day from a woman thanking me for inspiring her to look at her children’s behavior through the lens of dehydration. She said that it hadn’t occurred to her that perhaps their moods and behaviors could be the result of chronic mild dehydration, and after just a few days they saw noticeable changes in all three of their kids.

This led me to reach out to my friend Ty Krueger, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who specializes in Applied Behavior Analysis, fitness, and how it all comes together to impact those tiny people some of you have chosen to allow into your homes (they’re called kids, I guess 😉). Ty and his wife, Hilary, run Behavior Change Collective based in Green Bay, Wisconsin where they aim to impact as many families as possible by combining behavioral science, their professional parenting experience (3 kids!), fitness, and wellness to create a holistic approach to behavior change in kids. Pretty cool, right?

I asked Ty what role hydration plays in his practice, he said, “When a family comes to me wanting to improve their kiddos’ behavior, I always start with the body first. We need to eliminate any underlying health issues before shifting our focus to behavior. One of simplest answers is often just to increase water intake! A kiddo in a dehydrated state tends to be more irritable and difficult to deal with.”

And after hearing some cases that Ty has dealt with I realized just how important it is for us to pay attention to hydration in kids, because often they might be too young or lack the experience to understand what is happening in their body to cause their mood issues. Ty shared this example, which I loved, “I was recently working with a family that was struggling with their 4-year-old’s behavior. He was always in a bad mood and would tantrum almost every day. After a few questions, it was clear that this little guy was suffering from chronic constipation and having a ton of behavior as a result. When I began asking about his water intake, I discovered that he was only getting about 50% of what he needed. We set up a positive behavior support plan to get him motivated to drink more water and within a few days, his bowel movements became more regular, less painful, and his behavior improved drastically!”

It’s clear that hydration can have a huge impact on a child’s mood and behavior. Hydration is just as important for kids as it is for the rest of us, and just like adults kids can experience fatigue, brain fog, moodiness, and a long list of other side effects when they are dehydrated (see this post for some common signs of dehydration). Studies show that a decrease in hydration as small as 1-5% can result in measurable cognitive impacts. So, maybe your kid isn’t a total jerk who is awful at listening and frequently bounces off the walls…maybe they’re just dehydrated!?

But how much water do kids actually need? Don’t worry, Ty has the answers, “I recommend 1 cup (or 8oz) of water per year of growth, capping out at 8 cups or 64 oz. So a 3-year-old should have at least 24 oz, a 4-year-old 32 ounces, and so on up to 64 ounces. If your child is sweating playing sports or physical activity, add another cup for every hour of activity.”

Now how do you get those tiny humans to drink boring ol’ water?! Ty and I teamed up to create a list of ten ideas for how you can get your kid to drink more water on a regular basis as well as a FREE Kid-Friendly Hydration Tracker that you can download. Check them out and see below for more information about Ty, Hilary, Behavior Change Collective, and how you could work with them directly.

TEN TIPS FOR GETTING KIDS TO DRINK MORE WATER

  1. Let them pick out their own bottle/cup. Make it something that is age-appropriate, a size they can handle themselves, and easy for them to access on their own but take on-the-go. Some suggestions would be: Simple Modern Summit CupYeti Rambler / Takeye Canteen / Reduce Coldee / Cupkin Toddler Cups.
  2. Make water accessible. All of us are more likely to drink water if we have it accessible. So not only should you make sure your kid has water available (in the car, while out shopping, while watching TV) you can also make it easy for them to fill up their own cup when they need to (in age-appropriate ways, of course!). Provide a stool to the sink or create a water station that’s within reach for them.
  3. Try fruit/herb-infused waters. A little flavor can go a long way, and you can get your kids involved by letting them choose the “flavor of the day”. Pieces of fruit might be a choking hazard for younger kids, so try an infusing pitcher that will keep the fruit or herbs separate from the water. Cutting the fruit into fun shapes might also get your kids excited (watermelon stars, anyone?), or try letting them review or rate the different flavor combinations as a fun way to determine what they prefer.
  4. Add water (still or sparkling) to their juices. Kids sometimes don’t like the “taste” of water because they’re so used to beverages that are sweet or over-flavored. Start cutting their juices with water a little at a time to slowly get to a combination that is roughly 30/70 or 50/50 juice and water. Side note: bad breath is also a common side effect of dehydration. So often when we don’t “like” the taste of water it can be the taste of our own mouth that we aren’t enjoying. This improves over time but it can also help if you encourage teeth brushing before you start pushing the water.
  5. Feed them water, too. Work more of the most hydrating fruits + vegetables into their diet. Hydrating foods contain structured water that contains fiber and electrolytes that allow it to be more hydrating and beneficial. You can click here for a list of the Most Hydrating Fruits and Vegetables. Smoothies are also a great way to help your kids get hydrated through the power of plants (here’s my favorite Hydrating Green Juice Recipe).
  6. Help track their consumption and make it fun. Kids love coloring, right? You can download this free Hydration Tracker and teach your kids how to track their hydration.
  7. Reward Hydration using a sticker or token chart. Combine that Hydration Tracker with a weekly or monthly chart where they can place stickers on the days they hit their H20 Goal. We’ve put a spot on the printable above where your kid can place a sticker or stamp to get started.
  8. Model the behavior you desire! Kids are always watching the adults around them, so you should make sure you’re exhibiting the behavior you want them to adopt. Drink plenty of water yourself, let them see you doing it, and maybe get on board with the Hydration Tracking + Reward system yourself!
  9. Build the habit into their daily schedule. Try setting a morning goal for your kids. 8oz right after waking is a great place to start. 8 oz with each meal can also help add ounces to their day.
  10. Get them moving! Water is always more delicious after some exercise so build those opportunities throughout the day!

Hope this has been helpful! Special thanks to Ty and Hilary for lending their expertise in both parenting and behavior change. Got your own tips for getting kids to drink more water? Pop em below.

Are you in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area? Behavior Change Collective has in-person therapeutic fitness groups for kids who need some structured activity to help with behavior. Learn more about that here. Not local but curious about other services? You can send them a message via the button below to learn about their customized programs and plans. And guess what? This dream team also has a podcast. Check out the Buff Behavior Podcast on all your favorite apps and hang out with The Kruegers! I know you’ll adore them as much as I do!

How to Get Kids to Drink More Water

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Velkommen! I'm Dani, a small-town Minnesota gal living in Copenhagen, Denmark. I like productivity, hydration, and my dog. What about you?