How to Help Your Sick Child Get Enough to Drink

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 12, 2023
3 min read

Just like grownups, kids need plenty of fluids when they've got a cold or the flu. But if your little one won't play along when you say "drink up," it's time to get creative. Making it fun is the secret.

According to the experts, just about any fluids are good for your sick child. Try some of these:

Water. It'sthe easiest choice, but if your child says it's boring, add a little juice to liven it up.

Fruit juices. Most kids love them. But when they come from citrus fruits, like OJ, they can irritate a sore throat.

Apple or grape juice may be more soothing. Dilute it with water so your child gets less sugar.

But if your child is dehydrated, fruit juice doesn’t have the right mix of sugar and salt to treat it. Get an oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte instead.

Decaffeinated tea. For anolder child, warm beverages are soothing and can help break up mucus. Just make sure it's not too hot so it doesn't scald or burn them. As long as they are older than 1 year old, add some honey to make their sore throat feel better and ease a cough.

Milk. Despite what you may have heard, it's fine for kids with colds or flu. It won't cause mucus buildup. The protein, calories, and fat in it can help keep up your sick child's strength.

What shouldn't your sick child have? Skip caffeinated drinks and avoid sugary ones or sodas. But you don't have to be strict about it. If something sweet is all your sick kid is willing to swallow, it's OK to make an exception for now.

Colds and flu sap the appetite, and they may not feel like drinking. If that happens, think of some tempting alternatives to a glass of water or juice:

Popsicles. If possible, get ones that are sugar-free or made with real fruit juice, or make your own. Pedialyte comes in frozen pops, too.

Gelatin. Use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes.

Soups. 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.

Offer your child liquids in new, fun ways. Put a drink in a cup they don't usually use. Give them a straw. Pour some juice in a bowl and have them eat with a spoon. Try any tricks you can think of to make it more interesting.

It depends on their weight and age. Some experts say kids older than 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, they'll need more fluid.

Call your doctor for advice if they get dehydrated. Watch for these signs:

  • Doesn't play as much as usual
  • Isn't peeing as much as usual
  • Has dry mouth
  • Cries without tears
  • Is sleepy or listless
  • Fussy or cries more than usual