It’s Not All Mary Poppins

What I said

“I can’t get him to drink water. All he wants is milk and juice.”

It’s a pretty common complaint. Milk and juice taste better than bland old water, and, uncontrolled, toddlers will suck back untold quantities of the stuff. Not that either of these is bad for a child, of course, but as with anything we can ingest, the issue is one of moderation.

Milk is good — to a certain point. After that it’s unnecessary calories. Juice is all right — though fresh fruit is better.

But water? It’s essential, and learning to drink water when thirsty, as opposed to milk, juice, or god forbid, soft drinks (pop! for thirst! bizarre — and just plain gross, people) is a lifetime healthy habit children need.

So I explain my tried-and-true strategy. Since children don’t get juice at my home at all, I’ll be using milk, but the strategy holds for all liquids:

Water it down. Slowly, incrementally, over a period of weeks. You’re not replacing milk with water entirely, of course, but you do stretch the milk out. And we’re talking a child who’d drink his weight in milk every day, so there’s no worry about inadequate milk intake. Rather the reverse.

Mom shakes her head. “Oh, that’d never work. He loves his milk!” I remind her that it’s incremental: the first day, you need only replace half an ounce (15ml) of milk with water. As small as it needs to be.

She shakes her head, dubious. “He’ll know. I know he’ll know.”

I try once more, but it’s clear that mom has decided this won’t work for her child. And she’s going to prove that by not trying it even once. My sigh is deep and heart-felt.

Fast-forward three months. Mom walks in to see son downing a bottle of water.

“He drinks water?”

“Mm-hmm. Usually a cup, cup and a half over the day.” (By which I mean a full 8-ounce/250 ml cup.)

“That’s amazing! He NEVER does that at home!”

Gee. Guess I’m just “lucky”, huh?

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January 6, 2010 - Posted by | health and safety, parents, Peeve me | , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. I totally water down juice. I prefer to buy frozen concentrate so I can water it down as I make it and no one sees me adding water into the cup. 1 can concentrate to a gallon of water tastes very nice. I notice juice is being sold pre-watered down now AT THE SAME PRICE as regular juice.

    At the same price? And if it stays on the shelves, that’s because people are buying it. Lordy, there are some stupid people out there…

    Comment by Rayne of terror | January 6, 2010 | Reply

  2. I’m always amazed when parents of children in my care tell me “Oh, he doesn’t(or won’t) drink milk or she doesn’t (or won’t) eat vegetables… as if it were a choice the child has. And when they arrive at daycare during meal times, they are always amazed to see their child eating or drinking that which he/she NEVER does at home.

    Choices are a good thing, too. “Do you want peas or carrots? Do you want a little or a big drink of milk? Yes, you can have more bread, when you eat your potatoes or your broccoli.”

    Loved your old post on “Lucky” too.
    I’m often told how lucky I am that my daughter loves to read and reads well. It has nothing to do, of course, with the fact that reading has been an integral part of her life since before she was born… that her father and I enjoy reading and do it, a lot… You know what I mean.

    I don’t make a lot of comments, but I love reading your blog everyday!!

    Lovely to hear from a longtime reader. Thanks for the comment!

    Here’s another amazing/appalling story to add to that collection, this one from a caregiver friend of mine. She once had a child in her care who would occasionally arrive at daycare with a bowl of Smarties, because “it was the only thing he’d eat”. Smarties. For breakfast. WHO MADE THAT AN OPTION???

    The tots get lots of choices in a day. I make sure of that. But as you point out, there are choices and there are choices!

    Comment by Carrie | January 6, 2010 | Reply

  3. I also think it helps if they’re just accustomed to drinking water from the very beginning. Whether sips from Mommy’s glass as a toddler, or drinks of water when they start eating foods– they get used to it.

    Once my son had a fever that was steadily climbing, but he refused to take a drink of water (or any liquid). I could barely get tiny sips into him, even though he felt better and the fever would come down when he drank. So I asked my Mom what to do and she said, “Give him a straw.” Of course. Curly straws are magic.

    Your comment makes another point indirectly: this is a healthy habit you can model for them. If they see you drinking water (rather than only tea, coffee or soft drinks), they learn that… hey! water quenches thirst. (Radical!)

    Love the curly straw idea. Your mother is a smart woman!

    Comment by Rosie_Kate | January 6, 2010 | Reply

  4. I’m more of a believer in the “no choice” tactic myself. You drink water or you drink nothing. At meals, milk or water. I don’t get any complaints because they don’t know any better. But then I suppose I didn’t get them used to juice first. That would be harder.

    No choice works well. That is my strategy with food. “You don’t want to eat your beans? Okay, then. Away you go and play.” i.e. Eat your beans or go hungry. Your choice. It’s highly effective. 🙂

    North American children drink a LOT of juice. It’s a daily thing for most and for some, many times a day. Me, I never give juice to the daycare tots, leaving it, like candy, to their parents’ discretion. For my own children, it was/is an occasional treat.

    Comment by Mwa | January 6, 2010 | Reply

    • Obviously mine get it at parties, and sometimes just randomly at the weekend or something. I’m not a complete spoilsport. 🙂 Same thing with food here.

      I was amazed that my American friend would give Coke to her children every day. Not to mention the doughnuts and sweets and so forth. Then she would be annoyed that they were bouncing all over the place.

      Comment by Mwa | January 7, 2010 | Reply

  5. We allow my son a choice of drinks because we established a good water routine when he was little. Before the age of two he only drank milk or water. Now at almost three he will have a cup of warm milk after his nap, a cup of very very watered down juice at breakfast and during the day and for snacks just water.

    Another trick to get kids to drink more water is to make it coloured! You can use a tiny drop of food colouring or cordial, the cordial is almost tasteless, but it makes it fun. My son will ask for a red drink or a blue drink or a yellow drink.

    I used to do that with my eldest! We called it “magic juice”. Like Rosie Kate and her curly straw, it’s all in the fun factor. Kids are so cute. 😀

    Comment by Tammy | January 6, 2010 | Reply

  6. my son used to be a juice guy too! we used the water down technique, no choice technique and the straw technique–he’s kind of a stubborn little guy! now he hardly ever wants juice and loves his water!

    Comment by Dana | January 7, 2010 | Reply


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