You might not be able to imagine getting through your day without your cup of Joe, but your toddler has all the energy he needs without caffeine. However, a 2010 study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 75 percent of children ages 5 to 12 have caffeine on a daily basis. It is unclear how many toddlers are consuming caffeine, but the Washington Post says that there are 1,200 cases of caffeine toxicity in children younger than 6 each year. Toddlers have an immature nervous system, and drinking caffeine can have a variety of negative effects, from poor sleep to anxiety.
Caffeine is a stimulant. The Washington Post notes that caffeine takes 3 to 7 hours to leave the body and can disrupt nighttime sleep in adolescents and adults. Toddlers still need 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day, on average, including a 1- to 3-hour nap. Caffeine consumption at any time of day can make it hard for kids to get the sleep they need, impairing either their nap or nighttime schedule. Caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Toddlers who don't get enough sleep can experience mood and behavioral issues, as well as developmental delays.
Caffeine can impact a toddler's ability to get the right nutrition in a couple of ways. KidsHealth.org notes that caffeine is a diuretic, which can cause kids to become dehydrated, leading to other health issues if left untreated. Dr. Marcie Schneider, a physician and a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition, told LiveScience.com that caffeine also curbs appetite, which can hamper a toddler's ability to get the nutrition he needs for his growing body. KidsHealth.org also notes that most sources of caffeine, such as sugary sodas, energy drinks and chocolate, are typically sources of empty calories. If toddlers fill up on these types of drinks and food, they may not eat the nutritional foods they need.
Caffeine's stimulating properties can cause a number of behavioral issues in toddlers. KidsHealth.org says that caffeine can cause kids to become jittery, nervous and anxious. It can cause problems with concentration and can lead to hyperactivity -- exacerbating the impulsivity and hyperactivity that most toddlers already experience. Dr. Nicole Caldwell, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told LiveScience.com that caffeine can cause anxiety or make anxiety issues worse in toddlers who experience them.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can increase heart rate and raise blood pressure. KidsHealth.org says that caffeine can aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders. Parents may not even realize that their toddlers are at risk of such conditions, and allowing caffeine consumption can have deadly consequences. Dr. Caldwell says that caffeine can also contribute to arrhythmia and an irregular heartbeat. Consuming 1.8 milligrams of caffeine per pound of body weight can constrict blood vessels and increase blood pressure.
- National Sleep Foundation: Children and Sleep
- KidsHealth.org: Caffeine and Your Child
- LiveScience.com: 5 Experts Answer: Is Caffeine Bad for Kids?
- The Washington Post: Why Caffeine Is Bad for Your Kids
- The Journal of Pediatrics: Study Shows Caffeine Negatively Affects Children: A Majority Consume Caffeine Daily
- American Psychological Association: A Sip Into Dangerous Territory
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images