Transitioning from Bottle to Cup Drinking

While bottles are the safest method for infants, eventually children must make the transition to cup drinking. Coming of age for cup drinking correlates with lots of other life events for children, such as eating at the table, joining preschool, and so on. However, many children see the bottle as a comforting icon. The familiarity of the bottle can be hard to lose and create emotional challenges when moving to cup drinking.

This transition also represents an important milestone in physical and fine motor development. Cup drinking requires the coordination of the lips and tongue with the hands and fingers in order to bring the cup to the mouth and successfully swallow the liquid. These movements are important precursors to the movements necessary for later speech and for eating “adult” food.

These movements can be difficult for a very young child and/or a child with additional developmental needs, and may require extra support or intervention. Below are some tips for helping your child make a smooth transition to cup drinking:

  • Present a cup, with a small amount of liquid, at every meal
  • Help your child position their hands around the cup and bring it to the mouth
  • Support your child’s chin or lips during drinking, if needed
  • Encourage keeping the tongue on the inside of their mouth during cup drinking; if the tongue is outside the cup rim, it won’t be in the correct position to move the liquid back in the mouth for swallowing
  • If your child resists drinking from their cup, have them drink from yours. Or, have you child pick out a special cup to encourage reward behavior
  • Before taking away the bottle for good, be sure your child is successful at drinking from the cup, to create positive experiences
  • The most important thing to remember: patience and practice make perfect!

Children with developmental needs or those who continue to struggle after frequent practice may need support from an occupational therapist. A therapist’s expertise and clinical training can help support a successful transition to cup drinking!