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Caffeine is one of the most commonly used psychoactive substances in the world. Every day, tens of millions of adults enjoy a cup or two of coffee, and everything from energy drinks to soda to bottled drinks have been fortified with caffeine. But is it safe for your preschooler?

Caffeine is classified as a stimulant drug. It has been shown to cross the blood/brain barrier and have a wide range of effects in the body, including increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased secretion of stomach acid, and many others.

Numerous studies have been done to determine safe levels of caffeine on adults, as well as side effects. However, there are no such studies on children, in part because it’s not considered ethical to conduct medical studies on children. That means no one really knows if these products are safe for your little one.

Possible side effects from caffeine include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Nervousness or jitteriness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

If an individual is especially sensitive to caffeine, they may experience these side effects with even a small amount of the substance. A child is even more likely to be affected by these side effects because of their size.

The US does not have a set guideline for safe amounts of caffeine for children; it is generally considered safe in moderation, but not recommended. In the case of energy drinks, which often have high levels of caffeine along with other substances such as taurine and sugar, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says no amount is acceptable.

One particular downside of caffeine is that it’s frequently included in drinks that have no other nutritional value and are high in sugar, like soda. This can lead to dental problems and, because of the increased consumption of empty calories, also contribute to diabetes and obesity. Caffeine may also adversely affect brain development.

Caffeine offers no benefits to children and has the potential for causing side effects including nutritional deficiencies that affect growth and development. If you choose to give your child caffeine, do so only in moderation and make sure your child is provided a healthy diet.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019

Takeaways

  • Caffeine is a psychoactive substance classified as a stimulant drug.
  • There are no studies showing safe amounts of caffeine for children.
  • The US does not have a set guideline for safe amounts of caffeine for children; it is generally considered safe in moderation, but not recommended.
  • Caffeine offers no benefits to children and has the potential for causing side effects including nutritional deficiencies that affect growth and development.

References

  1. KidsHealth.org. Caffeine and Your Child.
  2. National Institutes of Health. Caffeine Use in Children: What we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry.
  3. MedScape. AAP Guidelines Nix Energy Drinks for Children, Teens.

Comments

  1. I never allow my 3 year old to drink caffeine. She pretty much only drinks water. I’m lucky because she doesn’t like juice and prefers water over anything else. She does drink milk at least once a day though. So many other drinks are loaded with sugar and I do my best to avoid that in addition to the caffeine.

    Reply
    1. My girls are similar to yours. Most days they only drink water and milk so juice is a big treat! My four year old knows that soda is for grown ups only and says gross when she sees it. Hopefully this will continue on for a few more years!

      Reply
    2. By setting boundaries early on and declaring caffeinated drinks “for adults only,” children will learn to respect that. I agree, juice should be their treat, not soda or tea!

      Reply
  2. Goodness, no! I would never give my little ones caffeine. Why in the world would I want them any more hyper than they already are! Haha. But, in all seriousness, I would think it would be very unhealthy for their little bodies. Thanks for this article. I hope others see that giving children soda and other drinks with caffeine is a bad idea!

    Reply

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