To start, cut a regular straw in half. Not only is a shorter straw easier to handle, but it also takes less strength for a child to suck liquid from a shorter straw.
Dip the straw into a cup with liquid preferred by the child. Place the tip of your pointer finger over the top of the straw to keep the liquid in the straw. Remove the straw from the cup, keeping the top of the straw covered with your fingertip.
Place the straw on the child’s lips at a slightly tilted down angle (so that if you release your finger, the liquid will flow into the mouth).
Remove your fingertip, allowing the liquid to flow into the child’s mouth. The goal here is for the child to comprehend that he/she is getting liquid from the straw. As you are doing this, tell the child to “take a sip.”
Once the child comprehends the idea of getting liquid from a straw, instruct him/her to close his or her lips around the straw. When the lips are closed around the straw, release your fingertip for the liquid to come out. You may have to provide lip closure exercises to assist the child with this skill. Pinching the lips together may help. Stretching the lips prior to straw drinking may help as well.
Once the child is able to close his/her lips around the straw with ease, it is time to work on sucking liquid from the straw. Place the straw just inside the mouth without releasing your fingertip from the top of the straw. When a sucking response is initiated, release the liquid. Quickly repeat so the child understands the idea of continuous sipping.
Keep practicing. Continue until the child understands that he/she needs to suck to get liquid, then progress to a regular straw that has not been cut in half. This may take more than just a few times. Be patient, calm, and supportive, praising all the while.
To increase difficulty once the child can easily sip through a straw, use milkshakes or fruit smoothies. Thicker liquids require more work!
Another option is to use ARK’s Bear Bottle, Cip-Kup™, or Sip-Tip®. All of these cup sets come with a special select-flow valve that you insert into the bottom of the straw. This valve is a one-way valve, meaning that fluid flows up into the straw and stays there – it does not flow back down into the cup. While these valves can be used with most regular straws, the benefit of using them with one of the cup sets is that you can then help the child drink by either squeezing the Bear Bottle or Cip-Kup™ or pressing on the lid of the Sip-Tip®. Doing so forces fluid up into the straw, thereby decreasing the effort required to drink.
So, to teach the concept of drinking from a straw using these products, you would hold the cup/bottle so that the straw points down into the mouth and follow the same steps described above. Once the child understands the concept of sucking to drink from a straw, he/she can then use the Bear Bottle, Cip-Kup™, or Sip-Tip® as a transition from bottle to cup drinking.
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