Nutrition • Jun 10, 2013

Sippy Cup Sagas: When to transition?

The first line on the triplet mom’s blog post read, “When did you guys get rid of sippy cups?”
The question was sent out to the universe of triplet, quadruplet and quintuplet mom experts. And I had seen it pop up many times over the years.

Having crossed that figurative bridge, I felt her angst. When I first contemplated transitioning to regular cups, I had visions of 3 newly-walking babes toddling around sloshing milk and my home taking on the aroma of a dairy farm on a 100 degree day. “Nope,” I remember thinking, “we will keep the sippy cups.”

Second grade seemed like a good time to switch.

But, let me just disclose this little-known secret of MomDocs. For many of us- myself included – the basis of what we teach parents about children is based in scientific research about what is best for them. We push ourselves beyond the comfort zone to meet those guidelines and teach them to you. But the reality of how to do those recommendations, that comes from “real world” experts, AKA other moms and our kids’ teachers.

Young boy using sippy cup to drink beverage outdoorsAs a pediatrician, I never will forget walking around the Montessori classroom in complete awe of how Maria Montessori taught children the foundations of education through exploration and play. I thought the founder of the Montessori method was brilliant. That is until I saw the tables with little, open, non-sippy, no-lid cups.

After allowing the idea that they had lost their ever-loving  minds  (giving 15 four-year-old kids open cups!) to pass through my consciousness, I came to the realization that they had been doing this for many, many years and it worked or else they wouldn’t continue to do it. Then, for the first of many times to come, I stepped back, watched and learned.

Before we get to the “how” of sippy cup abandonment, let’s briefly explore the scientifically-based “why” and “when.” Because pain based in education is much more tolerable than pain based in cluelessness.

When do we want to transition our children from a sippy to an open cup? Turns out my gut reaction of 2nd grade is a bit late. The goal? By one year of age. Don’t throw up your hands and close this page. I’m going to teach you some practical, no smelly dairy farm, tricks. I promise.

Yes, I really said one-year-olds should be using open cups. But why?! We know that once those pearly whites show up in a child’s mouth, keeping them bathed all day in the sugars of milk or juice allows bacteria to cause tooth decay. We know that kids need to eat their fruits, not drink them and should get a maximum of 6oz of juice per day.  We also know that toddling around drinking and driving one’s push car or just plain drinking and walking leads to accidents. Children under age 3 falling while drinking from a sippy cup or bottle make up approximately 4500 visits to the ER every year. Can your toddler fall while walking and drinking from an open cup? Of course. But, are you likely to let your toddler wander around all day drinking from an open cup?  So it’s safer to drink from an open cup because that usually means the child is sitting and drinking, not moving around while drinking.

While facial trauma, rotten teeth and calorie reduction “why.” The “when” is as soon as possible. When teeth erupt, they are at risk for decay. When kids begin to move around, they are at risk for oral trauma. And when a child is around one-year-old, he has the coordination to begin getting a cup to his mouth with some success.

For the beautiful, non stressful “how” of getting rid of sippy cups, let’s return to my Montessori experience. When you begin to offer drinks from an open cup, it means a mental transition in thinking about drinking and eating. Your one-year-old is getting old enough to space out calories. Your one-year-old is getting old enough to begin to learn patterns and routines. She is watching you eat and drink. So, at the same time, you make 2 changes in her drinking. First, you give her a cup with a wide base that doesn’t tip easily and either is small enough for her to grip in her tiny hands or has handles. This cool, new cup comes with meals while seated and with lots of positive affirmation. It is also accompanied by you mirroring the behavior of a plate with food and a cup with drink. You initially fill her cool new cup only one fourth full and it contains either milk or juice. At the same time, her favorite sippy cup continues in her life but filled only with water. Your goal is to allow her to stay hydrated, but begin the transition to drinking from a regular cup by filling the regular cup with the good stuff and the sippy cup with water, which she will drink but only when she is thirsty, not to take in liquid calories that harm her teeth. With time, the sippy cup with water will naturally transition to a straw cup with water and eventually to a water bottle that she takes to school and drinks from all day. The message you begin at one year of age: drink water all day and liberally because your body needs hydration. Drink milk and juice sparingly and while seated with meals.

One last caveat. Some children have been playing the fill-and-dump water game in the bathtub for a while before you first provide an open cup at meals. If you find that the open cup gets repeatedly inverted and the high chair tray turned into a pond, keep the cup out of reach. Show him how you drink from the cup. Show him how to lift the cup to his mouth. Hand it to him for a drink, then put it out of reach for a few bites of food, then offer it again. With time, patience and contents that he enjoys, he will figure it out.

Questions about this transition or others? Hints that worked at your house? Write to me. I would love to hear your thoughts and challenges.





  1. Hmmm I had four kids and never really had an issue with this ‘transition’ thing. Mine generally went from bottle/breast to cup at about 10mos. (breastfed until at least 14mos.). I experimented with sippy cups but they were too much of a hassle. I even bought one for my grandkids but end up skipping the lid and just using the handled cup. I had bought a wide based sippy cup from Tupperware for child #1 and we’re still using it. Its sippy lid was lost during child #3 (he probably buried it in the sandbox). I’m aligned with Maria Montessori and teach my kids how to use things properly…cups, plates, forks and the like. Yeah, I had incidents but with only water in the cups any time they wandered away from the table or got up off the floor (drinking between meals) it was no big deal. I was a lazy parent, I taught my kids how to do and use things so I wouldn’t have to do it for them. The only thing they had to learn on their own was using doorknobs to get out of their room and the house! (#3 was very adept at that, the little Houdini!).
    Oh, I love that there are water bottles for kids nowadays…I definitely would have used those for car trips.
    BTW, we serve our 18mos. to 3yr olds dixie cups of water in our church nursery with their snack and they do just fine. Just don’t fill the cups up!

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