Transitioning from a sippy cup

Behavior & Development • Apr 04, 2016

Transitioning from a sippy cup: How and when to make the change

I have triplets. And when they were babies, I read every blog post and piece of advice I could find from moms of other multiples. I remember well the line on the triplet mom’s blog post that read, “When did you guys get rid of sippy cups?” When I first contemplated transitioning from a sippy cup to a regular cup, I had visions of three newly-walking babes toddling around, sloshing milk all over my home. “Nope,” I remember thinking, “we will keep the sippy cups.”

Second grade seemed like a good time to switch.

As a pediatrician, I never will forget walking around the Montessori classroom in complete awe. 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.

I thought they had lost their ever-loving minds (giving 15, 4-year-old kids open cups!). But then 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.

Age to Transition

Turns out my gut reaction of 2nd grade is a bit late. The goal? By 1 year of age. When a child is around 1-year-old, he has the coordination to begin getting a cup to his mouth with some success. Don’t throw up your hands and close this page. I’m going to teach you some practical tricks. I promise.

WHY transition so young?

We know that once those pearly whites show up in a child’s mouth, sugars from milk or juice allow bacteria to cause tooth decay. 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. While your toddler can certainly fall while walking and drinking from an open cup, you are less 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.

Transitioning from Sippy Cup to Open Cup

When you begin to offer drinks from an open cup, it means a mental transition in thinking about drinking and eating. Your 1-year-old is getting old enough to space out calories. Your 1-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, make two changes in her drinking:

  1. Give her a cup with a wide base that doesn’t tip easily and either is small enough for her to grip 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.
  2. Begin the transition to drinking from a regular cup by filling the regular cup with milk and the sippy cup with water. 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. She will drink water from the sippy cup, 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 1 year of age: drink water all day and liberally because your body needs hydration. Drink milk and juice sparingly and while seated with meals.

Fill-and-Dump Water Game

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 flipped 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 content that he enjoys, he will figure it out.

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