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Mealtimes hold a special place in family life, and as children develop, so do their self-feeding skills. One milestone that takes time and patience is the art of drinking from a cup. As a children's Occupational Therapist, I'm here to share insights and practical tips to make this journey smoother for parents.

Understanding the Cup Journey By the second month babies will start to reach out for the breast or bottle. As the babies arm and hand strength develop, from around the age of 6 months they can begin to hold a bottle independently. By the time they get to around 18 months a straw becomes a new skill. Finally, by the age of around 3 years, children can confidently drink from an open cup without a lid.

Setting the Stage for Success

Proper positioning is key as your child learns any new skill. Ensure support in a high chair using rolled up towels within the chair if needed to maintain an upright posture. As they grow a foot support for their feet in the highchair is important to give better support for hand movement. As they develop and do not have the need for a highchair any longer whenever possible, have your child sit at a table to eat and drink. This makes using the hands much easier, particularly again if they have support at the feet. If the table is too high for the child to touch the floor a foot support again gives the child much more stability.

Tips for a Smooth Sipping Experience

  1. Consistent Setup: Establish a routine by consistently setting dishes and utensils in the same way. This helps your child locate items at each meal.

  2. Cup Selection: Experiment with various cups, starting with lidded cups and progressing to open cups or beakers. Consider a beaker with a weighted bottom for added stability and avoid easily toppled light plastic cups.

  3. Liquid Levels: Balance is key. Ensure the right amount of liquid – not too little, forcing a backward tilt, or too much, risking spills.

Mastering the Cup: Step by Step

Teaching a new skill takes time. Break down each task into small steps, practicing daily. For cup skills, consider the following steps:

  1. Sip Assistance: Place the cup to your child's lips and gently tip, allowing them to take a sip.

  2. Lip to Tip: Your child tips the cup after it's placed on their lips.

  3. Lift and Tip: Gradually, your child lifts the cup to their lips and then tips for a sip.

Supporting Your Child's Learning Style

Every child learns differently. Use a combination of physical assistance, demonstration, and verbal cues. Employ the hand-over-hand technique or guide movements from the elbow. During other activities, integrate cup practice – pretend play, crafts, or water play.

Final Thoughts

Celebrate small victories and be patient. Learning a new skill is a process. As a children's Occupational Therapist, I encourage you to provide varied support, adjusting to your child's unique needs. Whether it's through hand-over-hand assistance, visual demonstration, or step-by-step guidance, your involvement is key. Enjoy the journey of developing your child's cup skills and creating positive mealtime experiences!

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