How To Get A Sick Toddler To Drink (Revealed)

Having a sick child is no picnic for parents and child alike, but it’s especially concerning when a toddler is involved! One particular difficulty is keeping them hydrated. So what does a parent need to know about how to get a sick toddler to drink?

Every parent and grandparent should know how to get a sick toddler to drink. While it isn’t possible to keep kids from getting sick, avoiding dehydration is possible with a little preparation and creativity. From external incentives to subtle coercion, it doesn’t have to be too difficult either.

Being a mom of four and grandma (‘Oma’) to a growing number, I’m well aware of the necessity of knowing how to care for sick kids. Some knowledge might seem simple but for first-time parents, or even grandparents who’ve gotten a bit rusty, it’s worth reviewing, for example, how to get a sick toddler to drink.

How To Get A Sick 12-month-old to 24-month-old To Drink

There’s not much scarier than when your 1-year-old is sick! So what can you do to get him or her to drink liquids and avoid dehydration?

Understanding how to get your sick one-year-old to drink is not as difficult as it first seems. It’s no use trying to force down liquids because they’re sure to spit them right back up with that tactic. However, with some creativity you’ll be able to entice enough liquids to keep them hydrated.

One resource good for new parents is What to Expect the Toddler Years (available on Amazon) by Heidi Murkoff. This book continues the extremely popular original, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, first published in 1984, by Murkoff, and includes some tips for when your little one is not feeling well.

My Suggestions For Tricking Sick 1-Year-Olds To Drink:

  1. Try using fun looking sippy cups to entice a sick 1-year-old to drink, especially if it’s novel (something he or she hasn’t tried or used before). Amazon has many options but I know Paw Patrol cups would be something the toddler in my life would love!
  2. Whether or not sippy cups work, you can get jello molds with fun shapes like these Star Jello Molds from Amazon! The main thing with something like this is to select shapes your toddler knows and likes. For instance, smiley faces might work for some, but for my kids when they were this age, they’d only be afraid of smiles in jello. Weird I know, but it’s true! But don’t worry, Amazon has lots of options from unicorns to dinosaurs to butterflies, so it shouldn’t be challenging to find something that would work for your unique little!
  3. And don’t be afraid to branch out for liquid ideas for the sippy cup or mold! Normally, it’s not advisable to resort to sugary drinks but in times like this, those rules can be relaxed! Feel free to offer Kool-Aid; Gatorade/Powerade; juices or even good old fashioned milk! According to WebMD, it’s okay to give your toddler milk when sick with a cold or flu. Despite what your mom or grandma might have said (like mine), it doesn’t create excess mucus and if they’re not drinking or eating much, milk is a way to provide substantial protein and calories.

Each of these suggestions have been garnered from my hard-learned efforts with my four toddlers!

Signs for Dehydration (for One-Year-Olds Specifically)

Remember your end goal is to get your one-year-old drinking, even though he or she doesn’t feel well and may even have a sore throat to boot! Avoiding dehydration is vital, because it can turn serious quickly for them.

And with 1-year-old toddlers, it’s difficult to always know if they’re drinking enough. After all, at this age, they can’t verbalize or really comprehend your questions for that matter. Below I’ve listed some signs to watch for regarding dehydration in your young child.

Signs of Dehydration to Watch For (Source: Kids Health):

  • Dry and/or sticky mouth
  • Little to no tears when crying
  • Hoarse or dry-sounding voice
  • Sunken-looking eyes
  • Sunken fontanelle (soft spot) on the top of the head  
  • Few wet diapers or peeing less than usual
  • Drowsy or especially sleepy or lethargic

Special Note: Write down exact measurements of what your child is actually drinking. This is good for toddlers of any age! Now to be precise, you’ll need to measure what you give him or her and then measure what is left over, using a food scale like this (linked to Amazon). Keeping precise measurements are important because you can relay the info to your child’s pediatrician or nurse and they will have a more accurate picture of what’s happening with your child. That way they can advise you if it’s satisfactory or if you need to up the amounts.

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How To Get A Sick 2-Year-Old Toddler To Drink

But what if your sick toddler is a two-year-old? Well, to be honest, it’s not much easier to get two-year-old toddlers to drink when sick...that is, without some creative coercion!

How to get your sick two-year-old to drink is just about as tricky as getting a sick one-year-old to, but it can be done with some covert tricks up your sleeve! From using incentives like fun straws to playing games, sick toddlers can be tricked into drinking even when they don’t feel like it.

Example 1: Entice a sick two-year-old with the use of straws. Why? Because most two-year-olds don’t get the opportunity very often to use straws.

This Straw Variety Sippy Cup would be a natural next-step for your 2 and over toddler, looking more like a ‘big kid’ cup or something ‘Mommy would use’! Or if you’re particularly brave and patient, bring out fun straws like these Panda Straws (from Amazon, too) and let your little one use a grown up cup! Just for sick days, that is!

Example 2: Another suggestion for getting your sick two-year-old to drink against his or her will is by making it into a game, and specifically, a ‘it’s mine, not yours’ kind of game!

I promise this will work with the most reluctant two-year-old! How do I know? Because it always worked with our stubborn toddlers (and our son uses it with his equally-stubborn toddlers!)

You say: That’s mine! or You can’t have my drink! or Don’t drink that!

But key is your delivery! Be sure to overexaggerate the syllables and be very animated when you do.

And as sure as snow is white, your little terrible two will want to lay claim to the drink as ‘theirs’ and ‘not yours’ and drink it all down. Happens every time you do it!

Why It’s Important to Keep a Sick 2-Year-Old Hydrated

Dehydration in children is particularly worrisome because of their small size and inability to explain their aches and pains easily.

But it’s critical that parents (and grandparents or other caregivers) take dehydration seriously and do what they to avoid it happening. If young children become dehydrated, they are at high risk for kidney failure; heat stroke (if it’s hot that day or they have a fever); seizures; and hypovolemic shock (Source: Mayo Clinic).

Illnesses Where Dehydration Is A Risk for Sick Toddlers

Although any kind of cold or flu can bring about risks for dehydration, there are certain symptoms where it’s very likely.

When toddlers have vomiting, fever, or sore throats, the risks for dehydration are elevated.

How To Get A Sick 3-Year-Old Toddler To Drink

Depending upon your parenting and your particular sick bundle of joy, you may not have too much trouble getting your sick 3-year-old (and up) to drink. But there are times when it might still be challenging. In those cases, how can you get your sick three-year-old to drink?

How to get a sick three-year-old to drink is connected to your parenting for the past three years. If you have been a proactive parent, your child is apt to drink simply because you said to. Yet if your parenting lacks authority, you can utilize creative tactics to coerce your toddler to drink.

As said, parents who’ve been clear and direct in their parenting role up til now with their three-year-old toddler won’t have too much trouble getting him or her to stay hydrated.

But if this hasn’t been the case for you, or if your 3-year-old is especially stubborn or testy, then you can use the strategies given for the under 3s. Using special sippy cups and jello molds in their fav characters will probably work like magic.

You can of course utilize the ‘it’s mine’ game, too. Most 3-year-olds can’t resist the urge to prove it’s theirs and not yours. This might be just what’s needed to keep them hydrated while ill.

Something that works well for this older toddler crowd, though, is the use of incentive stickers like these* from Amazon to keep them hydrated when ill. Every time they take a sip, give them a sticker. You can let them pick their own, if that’s motivating.

In addition to stickers, you can offer them popsicles! Or make your own like with these Dinosaur Popsicle Molds (also from Amazon). I mean, what 3-year-old won’t enjoy popsicles for dinner! *Stickers and popsicles can be tried with younger toddlers, but are generally listed age-appropriate for 3 and over.

Videos to watch with Sick Toddlers Who Need to Drink

Watching videos about how favorite characters behave when sick can be helpful for toddlers.

Something that can work to entice most all sick toddlers to drink is watching certain videos together. By selecting videos with sick character plot lines, you can use the stories to teach your toddler how to behave when ill, such as drinking fluids, taking medication, and resting.

Most of the time toddlers love to mimic what they see; this is why most toddler shows and songs repeat over and over by the way.

I have noticed that many of these toddler shows have an episode or two where the main character is ill. These actually demonstrate what the toddler should do like take their medicine and rest. Watching these together, you can ‘teach’ your child that drinking is important and will help him or her feel better.

Below I’ve listed a few examples you can view together to get you and your toddler started. However, if your child would prefer a different character, you can probably find an example starring it, with just a quick YouTube search.

Summary for Getting A Sick Toddler to Drink

Here is a handy table compiling the suggestions given above for getting a sick toddler to drink in order to avoid dehydration. Of course, you can and should make adjustments to tailor the tips for your child.

(Up to 24 months)
2-Year-Olds 3-Year-Olds
Introduce or Use Sippy Cups in a Favorite Character

Use Jello molds in a favorite shape

Don’t limit liquids to non-sugary variety.
Introduce or Use Straws, either with sippy cups or fun straws to use in a regular cup

Play the ‘it’s mine’ game
Tell them to drink.

Try stickers.

Add fun popsicles.

(Also use the same tactics for under 3s)
Watch videos with sick character plot lines Watch videos with sick character plot lines Watch videos with sick character plot lines
Table Showing Suggestions for Getting Sick Toddlers to Drink

The Takeaway For Getting A Sick Toddler To Drink

To conclude, getting a sick toddler to drink is quite important. Toddlers are at high risk for dehydration when ill, so parents (and any caregivers) should take their drinking seriously.

And of course, always seek the advice of your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns about your sick toddler!

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