You know the scene. It’s hot outside, the kids are having fun tearing around the pool, splashing and jumping in. But, come lunchtime, they’re weary, grumpy and bad tempered. Yes, they may just have overdone it, but chances are they’re also a little dehydrated. ‘Kids’ internal cooling systems don’t work in the same way as ours. They sweat less, they overheat and they forget to drink because they’re engrossed in playing,’ says Deborah Williams, midwife and nurse at Cooper Health Clinic in Umm Sequim.
Dehydration is when the body loses too much water and doesn’t replace it. This often happens when a child has sickness and diarrhoea (and boy, do Dubai kids fall foul of those nasty bugs with alarming frequency); but it can also happen simply by not drinking enough in the heat.
Water makes up around 70 per cent of our bodies and is responsible for transporting nutrients and removing waste products. Drink too little and you’re in trouble. ‘Severe dehydration can cause a change in body chemistry which, in extreme cases, can lead to kidney failure and be fatal. It’s not something to be taken lightly,’ says Williams.
So how can we spot the signs of dehydration? The biggest clues will be dry nappies, if your child isn’t urinating or their urine is persistently dark. Watch out for cracked lips or a dry mouth, too. Look inside your child’s mouth. If it’s wet, then fine, but if it’s dry and sticky, chances are they’re not drinking enough. Most kids are prone to the odd grumpy spell (particularly when they’ve been called indoors away from the fun and games), but don’t assume their stroppiness is solely down to being awkward. Irritability and confusion are often signs of dehydration, as are dizziness, lethargy and tiredness. Be suspicious if they complain of feeling sick or unwell or if their temperature refuses to budge below 38°C. Physically, their skin may turn a grey shade and their eyes could appear sunken. In babies younger than a year, the fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of their head) will look sunken, and their skin may even take on a shrivelled appearance.
If your child is showing any of these symptoms, bring them straight in from the heat, or take them into the shade and cool them down by removing their clothing and sponging them down with a tepid – not cold – flannel. And, of course, give them plenty of water to drink. ‘If you’re unsure, contact your pediatrician or a health professional for advice or take them to hospital. It’s worth discussing with a medical professional, and no doctor worth their salt will berate you for seeking advice,’ says Williams.
As in most situations, prevention is better than cure, so make sure your kids always have enough to drink. ‘Always be mindful of the risk of dehydration and make sure they have a good drink before leaving the house,’ says Williams. There are so many different guidelines as to what and how much kids should drink each day, it’s often difficult to know what to do for the best. Williams says a good rule of thumb is eight tumblers of water per child: small tumblers for small kids, big tumblers for bigger kids. Water is the best thing to drink, but if it encourages kids to take in more fluids, mix in a little fruit juice to sweeten the taste. She recommends one part juice to five parts water. Sugary cordials are not ideal, but if that’s the only way to get your kids to drink, then ‘needs must’.
Always have water to hand so you can at least offer a drink every 15 to 20 minutes with a view to pre-empting your child’s thirst. ‘Never ignore it when your child says he’s thirsty. That means he probably needed water half an hour ago,’ Williams says. Be creative in the ways you get your kids to drink. Fruits like grapes contain a lot of liquid, or freeze slices of watermelon for a fruity, thirst-quenching snack. Another good idea is to get your kids involved in making ice lollies, flinging in bits of fruit and diluted juice or water – whatever takes their fancy. ‘They may spit out the fruit, but at least you know they’ve drunk the water,’ says Williams. Finally, lead by example. Just as you would – hopefully – put on your own sun cream and wear a hat, let your kids see you drinking water regularly so that it becomes a habit for all the family.
To make an appointment with Deborah Williams contact Cooper Health Clinic on 04 348 6344.