Should your child drink caffeine?

28 August 2014

We all love a good cuppa to kickstart the day, but should kids drink any beverages – hot or cold – that contain caffeine? We asked family physician Dr Minakshi Jivan‘s advice.

We all love a good cuppa to kickstart the day, but should kids drink any beverages – hot or cold – that contain caffeine? We asked family physician Dr Minakshi Jivan’s advice.

Should kids drink caffeine?

Dr Jivan says although the side effects of drinking caffeine are similar in adults and children, it tends to be greater the younger you are. The most notable is how it interferes with sleep, causing sleep deprivation when drunk in large amounts. It can also cause headaches, palpitations, restlessness and altered concentration. Long-term use can lead to increased blood pressure, tooth decay, anxiety and even obesity. It’s therefore definitely not advisable to let young children drink any caffeinated drinks and Dr Jivan warns not to introduce them to it if at all possible.

When could kids start drinking caffeine and how much is okay?

There’s no specific age at which children should or could start drinking caffeinated drinks, says Dr Jivan. “It is preferable to delay it for as long as possible, especially in pre-schoolers. One can of cooldrink is probably the most a child should have a day, if any.”

Help your kids scale down or stop drinking caffeine

It’s important to have a conversation with older children about the dangers of caffeine. Explain the side effects to them and offer to help them scale down. Dr Jivan says it’s important to limit your child’s access to caffeinated drinks if they’re drinking a lot of it. “If they are already exposed to caffeinated drinks be aware of what their consumption is. If your child drinks three cans of caffeinated cooldrink a day, limit them to one. Or introduce a reward system. If your child doesn’t drink any caffeinated drinks the whole week, they can have an extra hour on the computer or stay up an hour later than normal. Also, do not keep caffeinated drinks in the house – simply stop buying it.”

Offer alternatives

It’s easier to offer substitutes to caffeinated drinks than to just do away with it. Dr Jivan suggests water in squeeze bottles, flavoured water and 100 per cent pure fruit juice. Caffeine-free vitamin and energy drinks also offer plenty of energy for active children. If your child often drinks coffee or tea, substitute these with herbal tea such as camomile.

-Londiwe Dlomo

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