Parents can start teaching their child to drink out of a regular cup as early as 6 months old. It takes practice and may be a little messy at first but this is an important skill for children to learn! Choosing the right cup will help infants and toddlers develop the correct way to talk and swallow, lower their risk of cavities, and help them gain independence. If you start early, children are able to drink from a regular cup by 12 months of age.

Teaching a child to go from breast or bottle feeding to drinking out of a cup takes time and practice. Figuring out which cup to use can add to the confusion. Choosing a regular cup helps your child learn to sip rather than suck. Many sippy cups are created for convenience and to reduce spills and may cause problems with learning to swallow or increase the risk of developing cavities.

The best cup to choose is a regular, lidless cup. Choosing a lidless cup with two handles can help a child hold on to the cup and may make learning to drink easier. Fill the cup with a small amount of water to reduce spills while the child is learning. It’s best to teach children to drink out of a cup while they are seated. Walking around with a cup can be unsafe for a toddler as they are more likely to fall, which can cause injury to their teeth and face. As well, parents and caregivers can show their child how to drink from a cup—children will copy what you do.

Avoid using sippy cups that have anti-spill valves. Although these cups reduce messes, they may affect the way a child’s mouth develops as they require the child to suck instead of sip. For traveling, look for cups without valves that have screw-on or snap-on lids that allow the child to sip the liquid. There are also cups made with a heavier base which can help avoid spills.

Sippy cups alone do not put children at risk of cavities; it is what goes in the cup that causes risk. To lower the risk of cavities, offer milk with meals and only water in between for thirst. If a child drinks from a sippy cup filled with liquid other than water throughout the day, their teeth will be at higher risk of getting cavities. Drinks like fruit juice and pop not only have sugar in them, but they are acidic which can damage teeth. Milk and formula also have sugar in them and are not a safe choice for a child sip on all day or right before bed.

If parents choose to use a sippy cup, they can still encourage their child to start learning how to drink with a lidless cup by offering opportunities to use one. Regular, lidless cups help children figure out the right pace to drink at and with practice, they also will learn how to drink independently. Parents can help their child practice this skill by starting with a small amount of water in the cup while the child is sitting in a high chair so any spills will end up on the tray. Other places to practice could be while sitting up in the bathtub, at outdoor picnics, the backyard or sitting on a bench in a park.

It’s important to understand the risks of using sippy cups and the benefits of teaching children to drink out of lidless cups. It’s never too late to start learning; if your child is over six months old and has not started using a regular cup, start introducing one at mealtimes.

• Children can start learning to drink out of a cup at 6 months.

• Aim to use a regular cup for all beverages by 12-18 months of age.

• Choose a regular cup without a lid.

• Have child sit down to drink.

• Fill cup with a small amount of water while they are learning this skill.

Dawn Moon is an Island Health Dental Hygienist.