How to Encourage Kids to Drink More Water

Two Parts:Changing BehaviorsMaking It Fun

By now, practically everyone knows that water is the best beverage choice. Water quenches your thirst without adding sugars or calories, and it is essential to good health. Even so, some one-fourth of U.S. kids on any given day drink zero plain water.[1][2] Fortunately, the basic tactics for getting kids to drink more water are similar to those for getting them to do pretty much anything. They include, among others: availability, limited options, independence, fun and games, and rewards. Getting your kids to drink more water should never be a punishment. Instead, treat it as a lifestyle change that will benefit the entire family — especially if you follow suit!

Part 1
Changing Behaviors

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    Make water available at all times. It’s simple but true: if you always have cool, refreshing water to offer consistently, your kids will drink more of it. Pack a chilled bottle whenever you go out, and keep a favorite cup filled and ready to go in the fridge at home. Ask them regularly to take a few sips, even if they claim not to be thirsty. Odds are, once they take a sip, they’ll take a drink.[3]
    • The perceived freshness and flavor of the water can matter, though. Schools usually have lots of water fountains, but many kids refuse to drink from them because the fountains are deemed “gross” or the water “tastes yucky.” Schools that replace fountains with “drinking stations” for refillable bottles tend to see an increase in student hydration.[4]
    • If your home tap water has “off” flavors or odors, consider a filtration system. And keep the offered water cold — it is always more appealing that way.
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    Change habits gradually. Going “cold turkey” by pitching all your soda and juice and stocking your fridge with just water and milk may work for some families, but it is likely to cause a backlash for most. Gradually increasing the amount of water consumed while gradually decreasing the consumption of sugary beverages usually works best in changing drinking behaviors without a major upheaval.[5]
    • Require your child to drink a bit of water before he or she can have soda, juice, etc. Over time, this will make it easier to switch to just drinking the water.
    • Dilute juices and other drinks with increasing amounts of water. Eventually, you can offer just slightly-flavored water — with lemon or lime wedges, for instance — if necessary. Transform fruits into something meant to be eaten, not drunk as juice.[6]
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    Limit other options. When your kid is thirsty after playtime, and the options include water, milk, and … water, he or she is likely to drink water. Slowly but surely eliminating other drink options will help make water the automatic choice for meals and when thirsty. Of course, this probably means everyone in the family (including you) has to buy into these limited drink options. This is a good thing, though, because drinking water is just as good for you as it is for your kids.[7]
    • If ditching soda and other drinks completely is too much to ask for your family, you can try setting an allowance of one soda per week, or making it an occasional “out of the house” only treat.
    • The same principle holds true in schools and other settings as well: when there are fewer drink options other than water, kids will drink more water.[8]
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    Explain the change. You may assume that your kids won’t understand or care why they are being prompted to drink more water, but give them a chance. Kids are by nature curious, and are probably more likely to accept (or at least tolerate) a change if you can give them a better reason than “because I said so.”[9]
    • Give your kid the basic information in a manner appropriate to his or her age. Explain that our bodies are mostly water, require a consistent supply of water to function properly, and that the best way to hydrate the body is to consume plain water. Show them nutritional guides on sodas, juices, etc., listing the number of calories and sugars in those drinks, and discuss the problems with overconsuming these. Tell that them that drinking lots of water is one of the easiest and best ways to look and feel alert, energetic, and healthy.[10]
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    Set a good example. Convincing your kids to drink more water is not typically a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. They learn by watching you, and are more likely to embrace the change if they see you doing the same — especially once you have explained how important it is to make water the beverage of choice.[11]

Part 2
Making It Fun

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    Get them involved. Don’t make the switch to water into a top-down directive, as if it is some sort of punishment. Help your kids feel like they are actively involved in the process, and give them the opportunity to make (guided) choices and do things for themselves. If you can make drinking more water seem like something a “big kid” or “grown up” would choose to do, you may be well on your way to achieving your goal.[12]
    • Remind them when it’s time for a drink, but let them go to the fridge or fill up their cups — as far as spills go, water is an easy clean-up!
    • Let them pick out a special cup just for them — with princesses, trucks, a favorite sports team logo, etc. — on the condition that it can only be filled with water.
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    Keep track with them. From height charts to merit badge collections, growing kids like to be able to keep track of their progress. Try keeping a weekly chart on the fridge and check off each time your child finishes off a glass of water. Use colorful stickers or markers if that helps. Compare weekly progress and set goals to beat.[13]
    • If you have multiple kids in the house, you may want to keep color-coded water bottles in the fridge, to make it easier for you (and them) to keep track of their daily progress. Kids being as they are, things will probably turn into a (literally) healthy competition.[14]
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    Offer rewards. If you’ve gotten your kids involved in the process, and found ways to track their progress, offering rewards as an incentive is practically the natural next step. If you’re charting the progress of multiple kids, for instance, even a small weekly prize for the “winner” can provide ample motivation, especially once their competitive juices are flowing.[15][16]
    • Offering a soda as a reward may seem counterintuitive or like your best bet, depending upon your perspective and circumstances. Ideally, make the reward a healthy one, like a trip to the local pool or skating rink, or a half-hour of family play-time in the yard where the winner gets to pick the games.
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    Play games. Inadequate water consumption is serious business, but that doesn’t mean getting kids to drink more water needs to be. You may not naturally associate “drinking water” with “fun,” but kids can turn practically anything into a game, especially with your help.
    • For instance, give each kid a long, windy, silly straw and see who can suck up their cup of water first.[17]
    • Or, put a piece of a mystery fruit or vegetable (watermelon, cucumber, peach, etc.) in an opaque cup of water and let the kid guess the contents based on taste. Even better, have the child eat the mystery fruit or veggie after finishing off the water.[18]
    • For that matter, who says you can’t draw from your college experience (or ones you’ve seen on TV) and adapt a game of “beer pong”? Replace beer with water and chugging with sipping, and you’ll have yourself a family-friendly game of “water pong.”

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Categories: Raising Children | Childhood Health