How Much Water Should Kids Drink?

Girl drinking water from glass
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For good health and energy to fuel their bodies, kids need to drink plenty of water. The amount of fluids needed varies by age, but a good starting point is six to eight cups a day for kids and teens. Their recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables also contain lots of water.

Water is a perfect beverage choice for both adults and children since it hydrates without adding unnecessary calories, sugar, or fat. Your body uses water to regulate temperature, eliminate waste, and cushion your spinal cord and joints. Milk and juice offer benefits as sources of essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin C. But they come with sugar and fat, which most kids and adults should consume in limited quantities.

Water Recommendations for Children

The Institute of Medicine (a division of the National Academy of Sciences, charged with advising the nation on health topics) says most adults get all the liquids they need every day just by eating and drinking normally—with meals, and when they are thirsty. Any beverages, including caffeinated ones, count toward the daily fluid intake your body needs, which for many people is close to 10 cups per day.

Kids under 8 years old need a little less fluid than adults and older kids, but the advice is the same—they should drink healthy beverages with meals, plus sip water anytime they are thirsty. In general, aim for the following. "Total Water" includes the water kids get from eating fruits and vegetables. A cup equals 8 ounces.

Age Range Gender Total Water (cups/day)
4 to 8 years Girls and boys 5
9 to 13 years Girls 7
Boys 8
14 to 18 years Girls 8
Boys 11

Of course, if kids are playing or exercising vigorously, or if it's very hot outside, they'll need more liquids to make up for what their bodies are losing to perspiration. Depending on their size, this could mean anywhere from 4 to 16 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. To figure out how much your child needs, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests weighing him before and after the​ exercises so you can see how much fluid he lost (and therefore needs to replace).

Liquids Kids Should Drink or Limit

These beverage guidelines help you plan your child's fluid intake.

  • Water: Straight from the tap is fine (bottled isn't necessary). Your child may drink more if the water is chilled or if she has a special cup, bottle, or canteen for her water. Label it and send it along to school, preschool, camp, and sports practices.
  • Milk: Make it low-fat or non-fat (for kids 2 and up; younger ones need the fat for brain development). Serve 2 cups a day for kids 8 and under, 3 cups for older children and teens. Kids need the calcium and vitamin D in dairy products, so if your child doesn't like milk, try flavoring it (but watch the sugar content). Or find other sources of these nutrients.
  • Juice: Limit to 4 to 6 ounces a day for kids 6 and under (that's 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup). Older kids and teens can have 8 to 12 ounces a day, maximum. One hundred percent fruit juice is best—check the label. Fruit drinks and punches may have added sugars (and calories). A 100% fruit juice drink counts as one of your child's servings of fruit for the day—but remember it doesn't have the fiber that whole fruit does.
  • Sports drinks: Generally, avoid these since they add calories and sugar to your child's diet, but few nutrients. But if he's exercising vigorously and prefers sports drinks to water, let him drink up—it's more important that he stays hydrated.
  • Soda: Avoid soda as it has empty sugar calories.
  • Energy drinks: Avoid energy drinks. They can contain high doses of caffeine and other supplements that aren't healthy for kids.
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