Intravenous administration of fluids, electrolytes and glucose are the most common interventions in hospitalized pediatric patients. Parenteral fluid administration can be life-saving, however, if used incorrectly it also carries substantial risks. Perioperatively, adequate hydration, prevention of electrolyte imbalances and maintenance of normoglycemia are the main goals of parenteral fluid therapy. Conceptionally, the distinction between maintenance requirements, deficits and ongoing loss is helpful. Although the pathophysiological basis for parenteral fluid therapy was clarified in the first half of the 20th century, some aspects still remain controversial. In newborn infants, rational parenteral fluid therapy must take into account large insensible fluid losses, adaptive changes of renal function in the first days of life and the fact that neonates do not tolerate prolonged periods of fasting. In older infants the occurrence of iatrogenic hyponatremia with the use of hypotonic solutions has led to a critical reappraisal of the validity of the Holliday-Segar method for calculating maintenance fluid requirements in the postoperative period. Pragmatically, only isotonic solutions should be used in clinical situations which are known to be associated with increases in antidiuretic hormone (ADH) secretion. In this context, it is important to realize that in contrast to lactated Ringer's solution, the use of normal saline can lead to hyperchloremic acidosis in a dose-dependent fashion. Although there is no convincing evidence that colloids are better than crystalloids, there are clinical situations where the use of the more expensive colloids seems justified. It may be reasonable to choose a solution for fluid replacement which has a composition comparable to the composition of the fluid which must be replaced. Although hypertonic saline can reduce an elevated intracranial pressure, this therapy cannot be recommended as a routine procedure because there is currently no evidence that this intervention improves long-term outcome in pediatric patients with traumatic brain injury.