The Best Sippy Cup is No Sippy Cup

How to teach your toddler to drink from a straw

Before you start

  1. First, your child should be able to sit up and have good head control. Seating is important when teaching a child to eat or drink. Imagine sitting at the edge of a bar stool and your feet can’t touch the ground. Now take your hands off the counter and put your arms to the side, in front of you, and over your head. Notice how much effort this takes to keep your body upright, and your arms moving with purpose. Now try the same movements with your feet planted on the ground. It’s much easier. Your child’s feet should be flat on a surface below, while seated, to optimize stability. We want optimal seating so that the child can focus solely on sucking and swallowing, NOT on maintaining an upright position.
  2. Second, sippy cups are NOT necessary. The best sippy cup is no sippy cup at all. Specifically spouted sippy cups. The sippy cups that have a rectangular spout, or a soft large nipple like spout promote a less mature sucking pattern. Sippy cups were introduced in the 80’s as a way for increasingly busy parents to keep their cars clean while they drove around town with their 2-year-old. Spouted sippy cups are not a developmental step that needs to occur between breast/bottle feeding to straw drinking. Straw drinking can be taught as early as 6-months old, depending on the child’s development of oral sensory-motor skills. If you are going to use a closed lid straw cup, find one where that has a straw resembles an adult shaped straw. I’ll show one of my favorites straw cups that I use below.

Factors to consider while teaching straw drinking:

  1. Diameter and length of the straw
  2. Flow rate of the liquid
  3. How well can they close their jaw and round their lips
  4. Is it a preferred drink

Diameter and length of the straw. I like starting with a typical straw that you would get with a soft drink at a restaurant. I also like the ones that bend over the top of the cup. The length of the straw will determine how much effort is needed to pull the fluid through the straw. During the first step it’s easier to leave the straw whole. As the child begins to pull from the straw on their own, you can cut it down to make it shorter and easier at first.

Flow rate matters. Just the same as bottles with babies, they begin with a slower flow then increase the flow as they learn and grow. Water moves very fast through a straw. Apple sauce moves much slower through a straw. Start off with slower moving “liquids” so the child has a chance to learn without the water flying into their mouth down the back of their throat. You can mix some yogurt into milk until it becomes thicker than the milk, but still thin enough to move freely through the straw. Thinner apple sauce also works great. If the apple sauce is too thick, add a little water. Find the right thickness by experimenting with the ratios.

Are the basic oral motor skills present? Straw drinking is a complex skill that involves a lot of oral-motor competency. The timing and coordination of multiple areas (i.e. jaw, cheeks, lips, tongue, diaphragm, velum) are involved in taking a sip of water from a straw. The majority of us take this for granted. The very basics include being able to maintain a high/almost closed jaw position, and rounding your lips around the straw. This doesn’t need to be perfect at first. Once they’re in a good seated position, try giving your child a little support at the start by cupping your hand under the front of their jaw, and very gently squeezing their cheeks to help their lips round. Think of it as a very gentle sling under their jaw.

Is it a preferred drink? Find something they like and try not to go too sweet. The two options I mentioned earlier are my “go-to’s”. If they are coming straight from breast feeding or formula, think about how big of a difference it would be to jump right into juice or something really sweet. If they are already eating solids, and you know that they have a preferred flavor, try to incorporate that. If they have a certain puree that they enjoy, add a little water to that and start with that flavor.  

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Two Ways to Teach a Toddler to Drink from a Straw

The Liquid Moves by Gravity:

  • Suck up the thickened liquid 2-3 inches up the straw then place your finger over the top of the straw to it stays in the straw.
  • Place your support hand (as explained above) under the jaw and make sure their head is in a neutral position, or slightly looking down.
  • Place the straw to their lips and VERY slowly release the suction you created with your finger over the straw
  • Keep your support hand under the jaw if needed
  • Praise them for trying and repeat!

As your child become proficient with letting the liquid flow into their mouth, begin to keep your finger on the top of the straw and keep the suction. Support the lips to maintain rounding around the straw and see if they begin to suck the thickened liquid from the straw.  

The Liquid Moves by Force:  

The Honey Bear straw cup is very popular in the feeding community. It’s a simple a fun tool you can use to help engage your child in learning to drink from a straw.

  • Fill the bear up with a preferred thickened liquid.
  • Place your support hand (as explained above) under the jaw and make sure their head is in a neutral position, or slightly looking down.
  • Place the straw to their lips and VERY gently squeeze the liquid up the straw into their mouth. Start with the smallest sips possible to set the child up for success.
  • Take the straw out and reset. Continue this step until you notice they are looking for more or are becoming proficient at the amount you are giving them.
  • Then place the straw to their lips and DON’T squeeze. See if they start to pull on their own. If they don’t go back to gently squeezing the liquid into their mouth.

Think about the amount you are squeezing at first, then slowly decrease as you move along at the child progresses. To quantify the level of support you are giving you can look at it as a scale for how hard you’re squeezing. If 10 is fully squeezing into their mouth, try to move from a 9 to 8 to 7 etc. until they are independently pulling the liquid from the straw.

Quick Straw Drinking Tip: If you’ve practiced a good amount and they are getting stuck on the final steps of moving towards independently pulling; consider thinning the liquid to make it easier for them to draw the liquid all the way up the straw.

Final Thoughts on Spouted Sippy Cups vs. Straw Drinking

Straw drinking comes easy for some children, and can be very challenging for others. I have seen both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. Know that teaching straw drinking early on will help your child develop more mature sucking pattern which can influence oral postural issues such as an open mouth posture at rest, and tongue thrust. Chronic open mouth posture at rest, and tongue thrust can have many implications on the quality of how the child breathes and swallows. Proper straw drinking alone will not resolve any of these issues, however; it will have a more positive influence overall oral motor development than drinking from a spouted sippy cup.

Try your best to stay patient and positive. Adapt to how the child responds to your approach and think about how you can set them up for success. Good luck and have fun!

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About the Author


Drake Hastings is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in speech, oral motor, and feeding therapy for kids. Drake has a passion for working with children and families while helping children achieve goals using a fun and motivating approach to learning.

Drake’s main areas of focus within the practice are feeding therapy, and speech (sound production) therapy. Drake has experience working with children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia of Speech, Dysarthria, Down Syndrome, and rare genetic disorders. Drake has experience working and collaborating with a wide variety of families and therapeutic team members while treating children of all ages.