How to Tell If Your Child Is Dehydrated

By Erica Loop
Cameron Spencer/Photodisc/Getty Images

It’s a hot day, your child is overly active or she’s just come off a long stint on the sports field. She’s not acting like her usual exuberant self, and you’re not sure why. Understanding the signs of symptoms of dehydration can help you to determine what to do next. Likewise, knowing when your sick child isn’t hydrated enough can also help you to assess the situation and give her pediatrician key facts that he needs to treat her.

Symptoms of Mild or Moderate Dehydration

The signs of dehydration vary from mild and moderate to severe. Mild and moderate symptoms include playing less than normal, a dry-looking mouth, infrequent urination or fewer to no tears when he’s crying, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your child is still in diapers, fewer than six wet diapers in a day is a possible sign of dehydration. The soft spot on your toddler’s head may also look sunken if he’s suffering from dehydration.

Serious Symptoms

If your child is severely dehydrated, she may experience any of the mild to moderate symptoms along with other more serious ones. These may include excessive fussiness, sunken eyes, discolored hands and feet or urinating under two times in a day, notes the AAP.

Reasons for Dehydration

Dehydration doesn’t have one single cause. There are a variety of reasons why your child may be dehydrated. Illness is a major cause of dehydration in toddlers and children. Stomach bugs that cause vomiting and diarrhea and fevers that cause excessive sweating may result in dehydration, according to the website KidsHealth.

Other potential causes include intense exertion during physical activity or sports play and weather that causes your child to sweat more than normal.

Preventing Dehydration

Just because the mercury’s rising or your child is sweating on the soccer field doesn’t mean he's dehydrated. When the weather’s hot or your child is overly active, make sure that he drinks at least every 20 minutes. If your child is already thirsty, that means he’s already dehydrated. Give him fluids before he gets thirsty to stop dehydration before it starts.

If your child is sick, give him only the fluids that he can tolerate. Start slowly and gradually build up as he is able to digest more fluids. A child who is severely dehydrated needs more than water to rehydrate. Discuss options with your child's physicians but they usually recommend using an oral rehydration solution found at most drug stores.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.