Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

When your children have a cold or flu, they need to drink. Fluid prevents dehydration and thins mucus, which helps unclog stuffy noses. Here are tips on getting your sick kids the fluids they need.

What Fluids Will Help?

According to the experts, just about any fluids will help sick children. Good choices include:

  • Water. If plain water seems boring to your sick child, add a little juice to liven it up.  
  • Fruit juices. Most kids love juice. But keep in mind that juices from citric fruits -- like orange juice -- can irritate a sore throat. Apple or grape juice may be more soothing. Dilute the juice with water so your child drinks more water and less sugar. If your child is dehydrated, get an oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte instead. Fruit juice doesn’t have the right mix of sugar and salts to treat dehydration.
  • Decaffeinated tea. Warm beverages in an older child can be soothing and can help break up mucus. Just make sure the tea is not hot enough to scald or burn. As long as your child is older than 1, add some honey to soothe your child's sore throat and ease a cough.
  • Milk. Despite what you may have heard, milk is fine for children with colds or flu. Milk does not cause mucus build-up. In fact, the protein, calories, and fat in milk can help keep up your sick child's strength.

What shouldn't sick children drink? Skip caffeinated drinks -- sick kids don't need it. As a rule, avoid sugary drinks or sodas. However, if a sweet drink is all your sick kid is willing to swallow, it may be OK to make an exception for now.

What If Your Sick Child Won't Drink?

Colds and flu can sap the appetite. Your sick child may not feel like drinking. If that happens, think of some tempting alternatives to a glass of water or juice. You could try:

  • Popsicles. If possible, get sugar-free popsicles or those made with real fruit juice instead of sugary water. Or, make your own popsicles from juice. Pedialyte comes in frozen pops, too.
  • Gelatin. Use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes.
  • Soups. Again, the warmth may help break up congestion in your child's airways. Some studies also show that chicken soup -- your grandmother's home remedy -- really may fight inflammation and help with colds.

Also, try offering your sick children drinks in new, fun ways. Put a drink in a cup they don't usually use. Use a straw. Pour some juice in a bowl and have them eat with a spoon. Try any tricks you can think of to make drinking a bit more interesting to a sick child.

How Much Fluid Do Children Need?

It really depends on the weight and age of your child. Some experts say that children over age 1 need as many as 4 to 5 cups of fluid a day -- from both drinks and foods. If your child is older or weighs more, she will need more. Also, a dehydrated child will need more fluid. Ask your doctor for advice. Watch for these signs of dehydration:

  • not playing as much as usual
  • not urinating as much as usual
  • dry mouth
  • crying without tears
  • sleepiness or listlessness
  • fussiness or crying more than usual

If your child has any signs of dehydration, call a doctor and get advice. It's best to err on the side of caution.