How Much Water Should Kids Drink?

Girl drinking water from glass
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Your body uses water to regulate temperature, eliminate waste, and cushion your spinal cord and joints. Like adults, kids need to drink plenty of water to keep their bodies working at their optimal level. Virtually every organ in the body requires adequate hydration, and this becomes even more important when kids are exercising or sick.

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 an ideal beverage choice regardless of age because it hydrates without adding unnecessary calories, sugar, or fat.

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 eight years of age 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.

Your child's "total water" includes the water they get from eating fruits and vegetables. Also remember that one cup equals eight 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

When kids are playing or exercising vigorously, or if it's very hot outside, they'll need more liquids to make up for the fluid their bodies lose as they sweat. Depending on their size, your child could need anywhere from four to 16 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.

If you're not sure if your child is drinking enough, keep an eye on how much they're urinating and what color their urine is. Well-hydrated kids will pass urine frequently and their urine will be clear. If this is not the case for your child, take it as a sign to increase their fluid intake.

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 age two and up; younger ones need the fat for brain development). Serve two cups a day for kids age eight and under and three 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 four to six ounces a day for kids age six and under (that's 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup). Older kids and teens can have eight 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 percent 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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