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Help Keep Kids Safe From Extreme Heat

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Elaina Lee,MD

This year, Minnesota summer has already brought some extremely warm days — and we haven’t even made it to Fourth of July yet.

During warm days, kids can be vulnerable to heat-related illness when exercising outside due to their constant activity and inexperience with staying hydrated. They need us to help them stay safe when summer activities heat up.

Keep cool to beat the heat

Being active is an important lifestyle choice for every member of the family. When weather conditions do not pose a safety or individual health risk, children can and should play outdoors. But during summer sports and other outdoor activities higher temperatures can make it challenging. Staying properly hydrated keeps the body and mind running efficiently and feeling strong.

A heat index at or above 90°F, as identified by the National Weather Service, poses a significant health risk. There are several steps you can take to beat the heat and protect your child from heat-related illness:

  • Find an air-conditioned space. If your home does not have air-conditioning, find a nearby building that does. Libraries can be a great place for a cool retreat from the heat. If you live in a place where the air-conditioning is unpredictable, plan in advance for a safe place for you and your family to go during times when the temperatures are high.
  • Stay hydrated. Encourage your children to drink water regularly and have it readily available — even before they ask for it. Serve water with meals and snacks, and take a few minutes to pack extra water bottles before your family heads out the door.
    • On hot days, infants receiving breast milk in a bottle can be given additional breast milk in a bottle, but they should not be given water — especially in the first six months of life. Infants receiving formula can be given additional formula in a bottle.
    • At around 6 months, babies can be introduced to water. They only need about 4-8 ounces per day until they are a year old because the rest of their liquids are coming from breastmilk or formula.
    • To stay well hydrated, children ages 1-3 years need approximately 4 cups of beverages per day, including water or milk. This increases for older kids to around 5 cups for 4–8-year-olds and 7-8 cups for older children.
  • Dress lightly. Dress your children in clothing that is light-colored, lightweight, and limited to one layer of absorbent material that will maximize the evaporation of sweat. Kids have a lower capacity for sweating than adults.
  • Plan for extra rest time. Heat often can make children (and their parents) feel tired. Encourage kids to take frequent rest breaks to cool off when playing or exercising in the heat.
  • Cool off. When your child is feeling hot, give them a cool bath or water mist to cool down. Swimming is another great way to cool off while staying active.
  • Prevent the effects of sun exposure. See Sun Safety Information from
  • Ask about policies. Talk to your child's caregiver, camp, coach or childcare provider about their policies for protecting your children throughout the day — especially during outdoor play or exercise. ​

Staying hydrated during sports, exercise or heat

In general, kids should drink the following amounts when active on hot days:

  • 2-3 hours prior to exercise:
    • A 70-pound child should drink around 8-10 ounces of water.
    • A teenager should have 12-20 ounces of water.
  • Directly before exercise, drinking an additional 6-8 ounces will be helpful.
  • When exercising vigorously or sweating a lot during exercise:
    • Replenish fluids by having your younger child drink 3-4 ounces every 15 minutes.
    • Children from 9-12 years of age generally need to drink about 3-8 ounces of water every 20 minutes.
    • Teens need to drink about 34-50 ounces per hour.
    • For vigorous activities that last longer than 1-2 hours, electrolyte-supplemented beverages may be necessary but are not recommended regularly.
  • After exercise:
    • After 30-60 minutes, your child should continue to drink water to rehydrate. A healthy snack that is rich in proteins can further help your child recover.
  • Water and milk are all the drinks kids need. Don't believe all the hype surrounding many of the other drinks marketed to kids, especially sports drinks and flavored milk. These usually contain way more sugar than children need in a day and are not routinely recommended.

Heat-related illnesses

If your children do become dehydrated or overwhelmed in the heat, they are at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here's how you can tell the difference.

  • Heat exhaustion occurs from excessive sweating, causing dehydration and for the core body temperature to rise. If this happens, move your child out of sunlight to a cool place, rehydrate with cool water, wear light, cool clothes and use cold towels or ice packs to lower your child's body temperature. To be safe, if your child's symptoms are concerning or last more than an hour, talk with your pediatrician.
  • Heat stroke. Sometimes called sun stroke, heat stroke is the most serious. It is when the body overheats to a point where it begins to shut down. If your child is confused or unresponsive, has a rapid pulse, or a temperature over 103 degrees, immediate medical treatment is needed.

When to seek medical assistance
If you have any concerns about dehydration or a heat-related illness, don't hesitate to call your pediatrician. If your child becomes extremely lethargic or unresponsive, vomits, stops sweating, or complains of severe abdominal pain, head to your local emergency room or call 911. While these cases are less common, getting help quickly can make all the difference.

During winter, we dream of the days of warmer weather. So, it is terrible when summer comes to feel like you or your child cannot go outside. When it’s hot, you can help everyone stay safe by being mindful of your child’s activities, the time of day they take place and by staying hydrated before, during and after activities.

In this way, we can experience the best Minnesota has to offer during the long summer days.

Source: — the parenting website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.