Many of the kids who wean from the feeding tube struggle with drinking. Nursing and bottle drinking are supported by reflexes in the early days of infancy and designed to progress as a team with a caregiver. Most kids who are weaning from a feeding tube have already passed the early stage, which means bottle drinking is either more difficult or less interesting to learn. Although a few younger kids can learn to nurse or drink from the bottle, most kids show interest in drinking from a cup like everyone around them. It makes them less vulnerable than lying back for a bottle and allows them to look around and take some control.
Most of them have pretty big feelings related to their early eating and drinking experiences, which makes them extremely suspicious and independent, even (or especially!) if they don’t have the skill to back it up. So how can you help them without overpowering their desire for independence?
Pour and Play – Remember that the first step to successful experiences is positive experiences with liquid. Let them splash, play and pour with open cups and water. If kids are older, they can pour liquid to help cook or empty glasses into the sink at the end of the meal.
Mirror, mirror – Kids have much more interest in doing what you do. That also means tasting YOUR drinks. You don’t have to get them their own cup, they probably prefer to share yours.
Forget the mess – Open cups are almost always the most successful. Worry about the mess later, let them take sips now.
That’s new! It helps if your cup is interesting! We have used water bottles, martini glasses, medicine cups, shot glasses and measuring cups. Don’t switch to a new or more “kid-friendly” glass until they have learned to trust the liquid inside, not just the new cup.
Don’t get stuck at the dairy! – Many kids drink only water because it is always the same. Other kids are interested in their parents’ tea or coffee because it is there every day and it hasn’t been over-offered. Very few kids are interested in milk or milk products, so don’t get stuck on the idea that it has to be milk to have any value. Trust and drinking first, nutrition can come later.
Respond to their Cues – Helping a child learn to trust drinking is a job for a patient caregiver who can read their child’s cues well. If you want them to trust it and come back for a second (or a first!) sip, you must respect their “no” and stop before they get scared or overwhelmed, even if that means they don’t drink a drop the first 5 (or 10 or 20 or 50) times. If you are responsive to their fear, they will trust you not to push them too far.