How to Teach Your Baby or Toddler to Drink From a Straw

Chow on 04.19.11
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Photo Credit: Katie Morton

When I began to teach my daughter how to drink out of a sippy cup, she made it clear she wasn't a fan of the spout. So I removed the lid, and she was all keyed up to drink out of an open cup. What she lacked in steadiness, she made up for with heart, but after one-too-many soaked onesies I had to limit her practice field to the bathtub.

However, it was clearly impractical to only allow her a drink when she happened to be bathing, and so it was obvious early on that an open cup was not yet a viable solution for my wee one. She was never too keen on bottles, so I figured we might as well take the next step.

Enter the straw cup. It took my daughter about 30 seconds as a 7-month-old to figure it out, while according my mother, it took her forever to teach me how to use a straw when I was three years old. To hear her tell it, I still don't know how to use a straw. I don't like what that implies about my intelligence, so I will assume it's because my mom tried to teach an old kid new tricks.  That said, the earlier you try to teach your baby to drink out of a straw, the better.

Based on my own experience, and by peeking into other moms' experiences via various online forums, I compiled a few different ways to teach your baby how to use a straw.

Babies Learn in Categories

I remember the time that my baby daughter held a pacifier next to my breast, evidently making a connection between the binkie and the nipple and mentally cataloging the two together. With that incident in mind, I showed her the straw next to my nipple, then held her as if I were going to breastfeed her while I offered her the straw cup. She got the knack right off the bat.

Even if your child isn't breastfeeding, if she's young enough, she probably still has a strong sucking reflex. Show her the different items she sucks on, whether it's her pacifier or thumb, bottle nipple or your own nipple. Make the visual connection that the straw is in the same category.

If she's a bottle drinker, you can give her a bottle to suck on, and then replace the bottle with the straw cup. You can conduct a bottle feeding as usual, but switch to the straw cup in the middle while continuing to hold her as if for a bottle feeding.

One mother gave her son an ice pop. He sucked the juice out of the pop, then she gave him a straw. He made the connection and was able to consume his drink with the straw.

The Demonstration Tactic

Babies also learn by watching their parents, so you can show your baby how to use a straw by flaunting your most impressive straw skills. Get your own cup and straw and get ready to wow your baby. Show her how you drink from yours, and then offer her the straw cup. She will be in awe of your straw prowess and strive to copy her idol.

The Juice Box Approach

If you're ready to give your child juice, then try a juice box with a straw. Lightly squeeze the carton so he understands there's a tasty beverage at hand. Then let him give the straw a go.

The only caveat on juice boxes is that once your kid figures out that he can squeeze the box and juice will fly out, well, enough said. So juice boxes might be best reserved for the training phase.

Finger on the Straw Trick

This was the most wide-spread tip I saw. Place the straw in the baby's drink, then put your finger over the end of the straw to trap some liquid inside. Lift the straw from the drink, then put the other end of the straw in your baby's mouth and release a little liquid.

Some moms recommend only releasing the liquid when the baby sucks. When your baby gets the idea that there's liquid in the straw, he may try to work for it.

The Delicious Strategy

If you know of a treat so irresistible your child will do anything to get it, and you don't mind letting your kid have it for the sake of learning, then The Delicious Strategy might be for you.

Get your hands on a milkshake, or other devilishly delicious concoction. I prefer to use my Baby Spinach Surprise Smoothie, as it's both healthy and scrumptious, and it's also a pretty shade of light green.

Suck your chosen concoction up to the top of the straw and let your baby have a little taste. Rumor has it, if it's delicious enough, your child will make the effort to figure out how to get it. Once your child has demonstrated straw proficiency, she should be able to drink anything you want her to have from a straw.

Have Patience

Whatever method you choose, use patience. Depending on your child's preferences and habits, it could take mere moments, or it could take weeks of trying some or all of the above methods before your kid gets the hang of using a straw. Or if you're my mother, then you're still trying. Just keep letting him practice, and voila! One day soon you'll have a fast and neat way for your child to drink his beverages.

Katie Morton is the founder of The Monarch Company. Get a FREE copy of her eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful You, to get started on developing extraordinary willpower for life.

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Tags: Feeding