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Want to take the chill off your toddler’s cold with some tea? A warm beverage can certainly help soothe sniffles, coughs, and sore throats — all while providing some comfort to boot.
Although, with young kids, you’ll need to consider a few things before you steep just any old tea bag in your cupboard. Here’s what you need to know about choosing and preparing teas for tots, as well as some safety concerns you may want to bring up with your child’s pediatrician.
Related: When can kids start drinking coffee?
When considering different teas to give your toddler, you want to first and foremost look at the ingredient list. Many teas — particularly black and green leaf varieties — contain caffeine. (That’s why us tired parents love ’em for ourselves, right?)
Caffeine, a stimulant, isn’t recommended in any amount for children under age 12. It may cause anything from trouble sleeping and nervousness to issues with increased urine output and decreased sodium/potassium levels.
Herbal teas are made from the leaves, roots, and seeds of plants. They don’t usually contain caffeine. You can buy them individually as loose leaf tea or in bags. Bagged teas often include more than one type of herb, which is why it’s important to look closely at the ingredient list.
Some herbs, such as chamomile, have been deemed safe for infants and young children. Others like red clover are either dangerous or in a grey area. Read labels so you know everything your child is sipping.
Allergies are another concern. Some people, including children, may be allergic to the herbs in tea. Signs of an allergic reaction include trouble breathing and swelling of the throat, lips, tongue, and face. Scary stuff! If you suspect a possible allergic reaction or have other concerns in this area, contact your child’s healthcare provider.
Overall, there isn’t a lot of research on how herbs or teas affect young children. Check with your pediatrician to get an OK for any teas/herbs you plan to give your child. Even those that are generally considered “safe” may interact with medications they are taking or conditions they may have.
Researchers share that herbal remedies like tea containing the following are generally safe for children:
If you decide to look for teas containing these herbs or others, make sure they’re not mixed with unfamiliar ingredients and that the tea bag explicitly states it’s caffeine-free.
Catnip isn’t just for our feline friends! This herb, which is part of the mint family and can be used to brew catnip tea, is touted for its ability to aid sleep, stress, and upset stomach, among other benefits. You can even steep it in a bath to soothe aches and pains.
While there haven’t been many studies on this herb,
Shop for catnip tea online.
Chamomile is regarded as a calming herb and may even have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic (think muscle spasms) properties, among other benefits. It also happens to be one of the most common herbal teas you’ll find at the store.
Chamomile has a mild, floral flavor that comes from the herb’s daisy-like flowers. Lisa Watson, a naturopathic doctor and blogger, recommends steeping this tea in the evening before bedtime or stressful events to help calm your toddler.
Take note: Your child may be sensitive or even allergic to chamomile if they have issues with ragweed, chrysanthemums, or other similar plants in the Compositae family.
Shop for chamomile tea online.
Fennel is traditionally used to aid gastric distress like gas pain or even colic. It may likewise benefit the upper respiratory tract during a bout of cold and cough. But beware: The root itself has a strong, black-licorice-like flavor that kids may not love at first.
Some people worry about using fennel teas and products, as the herb contains an organic substance called estragole. They believe that estragole may cause cancer — specifically liver cancer. However, at least one study mentions that fennel is commonly used in Italy in infants and children and that pediatric liver cancer is very rare in this country.
Shop for fennel tea online.
Ginger tea has anti-inflammatory properties and is often praised for its ability to aid digestion and help relieve nausea or motion sickness. In addition, this herb may help with circulation and congestion. It has a spicy flavor that kids may or may not like.
Shop for ginger tea online.
Naturopathic doctor Maggie Luther says that lemon balm is a “must-have” for kids. This herb has — you guessed it — a lemony flavor and is often used to boost the fruity flavor of various other teas. Its possible benefits include helping with sleep issues and anxiety. Lemon balm may also have antiviral properties, making it a good sip during cold and cough season.
In one study, researchers paired lemon balm with valerian root to help young children with restlessness and trouble sleeping. They concluded that these herbs were effective and well tolerated by even young children.
Shop for lemon balm tea online.
Peppermint may help with anything from an upset tummy (irritable bowel, colic, and nausea) and stress to nasal congestion and cough suppression. Thus, Watson recommends giving this tea to your tot in the evenings to help them rest off a cold. It has a robust and refreshing flavor that your child may already be familiar with if they’ve ever licked a candy cane.
There aren’t many studies on peppermint tea and humans. Those that have been conducted haven’t shown negative effects on people, but it’s unclear if children have been included in these studies.
Shop for peppermint tea online.
You’ll likely come across a range of suggestions regarding the amount of tea to steep, so try asking your healthcare provider for guidance if you’re unsure about how much is too much. Otherwise, there isn’t a huge difference between preparing tea for an adult and a younger child. What you’ll want to remember is that toddlers and young kids generally prefer tea that’s weaker and cooler.
- Always read all the ingredients on the label. Some teas may combine more than one type of herb.
- Alternatively, you may consider using a small amount — a few teaspoons to a tablespoon — of loose leaf in a tea infuser instead of store-bought tea bags.
- Only steep your child’s tea bag for 2 to 4 minutes (maximum) in boiling water.
- If you still feel the tea is too strong, consider diluting it with additional warm water.
- Wait until the tea water is room temperature or only lukewarm. This is similar to the temperature you may have aimed for while preparing bottles when your child was a baby.
- You may consider adding a teaspoon or so of honey to tea, but don’t add too much or other sugars, as sugar is generally not recommended for young children due to the risk of tooth decay. And never offer honey to children under 12 months old due to the risk of botulism.
- Stick to just 1 to 3 cups of tea per day. Too much tea (or water) can lead to water intoxication or overexposure to herbs.
If you decide to skip tea altogether, you can make a mock tea of sorts for playtime or general warming benefits during a cold. Natalie Monson, registered dietitian and creator of the blog Super Healthy Kids, suggests heating 1 cup of water in a kettle or your microwave so it’s warm but not hot. Then stir in the juice of 1 medium lemon and 2 teaspoons of honey (provided your child is over 1 year old), if desired.
This drink gives your tot the same fun and ritual of drinking a warm beverage. Again, be sure to test the “tea” before you offer it to your tot to ensure it won’t burn them.
While you’ll likely come across a wealth of recommendations for herbs to give your little one, there’s still a bit of uncertainty about how teas affect young children.
There are even certain teas marketed as teas for toddlers, such as Secrets of Tea’s Toddler Magic Fruit. That said, it’s a good idea to consult your child’s pediatrician before offering any teas — regardless of whether they’re labeled as such. Keep in mind that while some herbs may be safe for toddlers in small amounts, there isn’t a lot of research backing many of their associated claims or potential benefits and risks.