As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am frequently asked about sippy cups. Here are three of the most common questions and my best answers to date:
1. At what age should my child transition to a sippy cup?
Once your child can sit independently and eat table foods, and typically by one year of age or so, they may start to wean themselves from the breast or bottle. This might surprise you, but your child does not have to transition to a sippy cup at all.
Contrary to popular belief, the ability to drink from a sippy cup is not a developmental milestone. Sippy cups were designed to prevent or reduce spills while a child is drinking independently. A more important skill to develop would be the ability to drink from an open cup without choking on or spilling (much) of the contents. With adult assistance and a little patience, a thirsty toddler should be able to master this fairly quickly. In fact, prolonged use of “spill proof” sippy cups can lead to the child tipping their head back further than they would need to with an open cup, thus delaying the development of “graded control” needed to skillfully drink from an open cup.
2. What kind of sippy cup should I buy for my child?
As mentioned in the answer to question 1, you do not HAVE to buy a sippy cup. However, since most Americans enjoy having portable beverage containers with them at all times, myself included, I suggest purchasing cups for your child that are as similar to your adult -beverage container as possible, with either a straw, or opening along the rim. As far as the popular “360” cups go, if they are “spill-proof”, your child will still have to suck at the rim to get anything out. The problem with this is when they are introduced to an open cup after learning to drink from the spill-proof 360 cup, they may also start off “sucking” at the rim of an open cup and are at risk of choking when they do this.
3. What if my child refuses to or is not developing the skill of drinking from a sippy cup?
Again, no problem. Very young children, including kids with developmental delays, can quickly learn to drink well from an open cup. The sooner your child experiences drinking from an open cup, after getting a few unfortunate spills under their belts, the sooner they will become efficient open cup drinkers. It is truly amazing how much “neater” children can be when they really want what is in their cup!