The Signs of Dehydration in Preschoolers

by Casey Martin on June 26, 2017

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Every day we lose liquid that must be replaced. Our bodies do an amazing job of prompting us to drink more when we have lost liquids, but sometimes children (and adults) ignore these impulses. 

When we lose more liquid than we take in, we can become dehydrated. 

Dehydration can happen slowly or quickly, depending on how the fluid is lost and the age of the child. Younger children and babies are more likely to become dehydrated. This is because their bodies are smaller and they have smaller fluid reserves. Older children and teens can more easily handle minor fluid imbalances.1

Preventative Steps

You can take several steps to help prevent dehydration from setting in. Here are a few to consider: 

  • If you are planning on being outside, begin hydration a 2–3 hours before the outside activity
  • Encourage fluid intake before, during, and after exercise (include electrolytes when possible, but avoid lots of sugary sports drinks)
  • On hot days, provide shaded five–minute breaks with plenty of fluids every 20 minutes
  • Monitor fluid intake whenever your preschooler has or diareaha or is throwing up

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Warning Signs

Because children are not always responsive to their body's signals, parents need to be able to observe the signs of dehydration in their preschoolers. If your child is already really thirsty, they may already be suffering from dehydration. 

Here are a few signs that will help you notice the path to dehydration. 

  • Unusual sluggishness or sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Dry lips and/or mouth
  • Dark urine or no urine for eight hours
  • No tears when crying


If caught early, the early signs of dehydration can be treated at home by replenishing lost fluids. For more serious cases, please consult a health professional.

Here are a few suggestions for home treatment. In short, replenish with liquids. 

  • Include a rehydration drink like Pedialyte or ReVital (water won't usually be sufficient)*
  • Avoid sugar-saturated sports drinks like Gatorade
  • If your child can't retain liquids, encourage replenishing in small spoonfuls at first
  • Continue rehydration treatment until urine returns clear

* Your child's doctor can give you exact directions for using electrolyte liquids, based on your child's age and weight, but a general guideline for the amount of total solution she should ingest over the course of three or four hours is about 5 teaspoons (25 mL or cc) per pound of your child's weight.2


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