Helping Your Child Transition to Drinking From a Cup
By: Michelle Schow M.S., CCC-SLP
All cups are not created equal and choosing a cup is important for your child’s developmental needs. Who would have thought that drinking from a cup would be so difficult? For our kids who have motor planning difficulties, low tone, sensory difficulties and adversions to textures, this is a true task. It starts at birth when babies drink from bottles. As an infant, the bottle or nipple is presented to the mouth for presentation of the liquid. Very little oral control is needed when sucking from a bottle because the liquid is placed in the back of the mouth. The infant uses a suckle tongue movement, back and forth, to move the liquid. As children progress to an open cup they have to be able to control the liquid when it enters the front of their mouth. The liquid is moved using a more mature tongue pattern, up and down. When drinking from a cup, the child must be prepared to efficiently handle the fast moving liquid.
Babies can start learning to drink from an open cup as early as 6 months of age. Prepare to get messy! Between 12 and 24 months, babies can learn to drink from a straw. Some children are ready for a spouted or sippy cup as early as 5-6 months of age but they are most commonly used between the ages of 12 and 24 months. Sippy cups are a common way to transition your baby from bottle drinking to cup drinking, however should be faded by two years of age. Sippy cups can provide advantages with the development of drinking skills, however, they also can create limits in developing the same skills. The size and shape of the spout can decrease the amount of liquid spilled from the mouth during drinking but can also limit the development of jaw strength that is needed to drink from an open cup. In addition, the spout often reinforces the sucking pattern because the spout is placed directly on the child’s tongue. This can inhibit the maturity of the adult swallow. In addition, as children’s teeth emerge, biting down on the spout can force the protrusion of the front teeth.
To transition from the bottle to an open cup, begin by putting thickened blender drinks like milk shakes or smoothies in an open cup. This type of consistency will move slower so the child has more time to respond to the movement of the liquid. It is ok for kids to use two hands when drinking from an open cup as this provides them more control. Practice makes perfect with cup drinking. Make it fun by experimenting with new drinks. Please contact your child’s speech pathologist if you have any questions or concerns.
Morris, Suzanne Evans and Marsha Dunn Klein. Pre-Feeding Skills. Austin: Pro Ed. 2000. Print.
Klein, Marsha and Delaney, Tracy. Feeding and Nutrition for the Child with Special Needs. Austin, TX. Hammill Institute on Disabilities. 1994
Babycenter.com. Sippy Cup Do’s and Don’ts. 1995.