Can Drinking More Water Help Kids Stay More Focused?

I’m sure you know the basics: water is an essential part of good health and we’re encouraged to drink eight 8-0z glasses a day. We all associate water with physical health, but did you also know that water is a critical component of mental health? A researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology recently published an analysis of 33 different studies looking at water and mental health.  The findings?  Overall, in studies where participants were asked to complete tasks when dehydrated, they made 12% more errors that when not dehydrated.

“People who are mildly dehydrated really don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,” according to study author Mindy Millard-Stafford.  Mildly dehydrated. That’s just 1.5 – 2% dehydrated, according to the researchers – a level so mild that we wouldn’t even feel thirsty yet.

What does this mean for a child with ADHD? While researchers haven’t specifically studied the impact of hydration on the ability to focus or complete complex cognitive tasks in kids with ADHD, the fact ADHD causes weaknesses in these specific areas of cognitive functioning suggests that staying hydrated could be even more important when a child has ADHD. In addition, for kids with ADHD who are already struggling to keep up with their peers academically, a 12% drop in performance from mild dehydration could mean the difference between passing and failing or grasping a new concept quickly or falling behind the rest of the class.

So, as the new school year begins commit to helping your child stay hydrated to help fuel their mental performance.  When it comes to drinking water, kids with ADHD are likely to fall into two categories at any time throughout the day. First, when they are at school or doing homework, kids with ADHD may ask for a drink of water repeatedly as a procrastination strategy, a reason to “escape” a boring activity, or an excuse to get out of their seat and move around. In this situation, parents and teachers are quick to deny that trip to the faucet or drinking fountain. Alternatively, if they are engaged in activity they enjoy, they may be so busy or are so busy or hyperfocused that they forget to drink any water for hours on end. As a result, getting a child with ADHD to drink water consistently throughout the day can be a challenge.

Here are 8 ideas to get you started:

  1. Start your day with water. Help your child get in the habit of reaching for a glass of water first thing in the morning.
  2. Water with every meal. Serve water (or another hydrating beverage) with every meal, even if your child says they are not thirsty.
  3. Make water accessible. Kids with drink water when they see it. Make sure they can easily access cups and the water dispenser or faucet at home. At school, work with your child’s teacher to build water breaks into your child’s schedule. This will help ensure that they get the water they need even if the teacher is in the habit of denying the trips to the water fountain that they’ve repeatedly asked for.
  4. Water on the go. Make sure to bring water bottles in the car and have them on hand when your son or daughter is at after school extracurricular and tutoring activities.
  5. Make water fun. Start off with a water bottle of your child’s choice (get a new one to kick off the school year) and consider things to “brighten up” water like frozen berries in ice cubes or fresh-fruit infused water. Don’t forget: fruits and veggies are great sources of water.  Load up lunches and snacks with things like watermelon, strawberries, celery, cucumbers and other watery snacks.
  6. Water is especially fun when it’s frozen! A great snack or treat can be a homemade or no-sugar-added fruit popsicle.
  7. Make it a game or a family competition. You’ve likely seen first-hand the power of sticker charts and rewards with your child. Build in fun incentives and rewards for your child or the whole family. You can use a “Marble Jar”  where everyone adds a marble whenever they drink a glass of water. When the jar is full, the family earns a fun reward (a trip to the water park?!). Or you can have a family competition using sticker boards to see who can drink the most water (within reason!) in a week!
  8. End your child’s day with water. At bedtime, have a glass (or water bottle) of water on the nightstand by your child’s bed and encourage your child to have a drink after they brush their teeth or right before bed.

It takes a few weeks to develop new habits but following just a few of these tips will help your child get off to a great start!

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