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The Competent Parent: Don’t Walk with a Bottle

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Don’t Walk with a Bottle

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My daughter is just starting to walk—still holding on to furniture or someone’s hand—but she’s taken a couple steps on her own. She’s more tickled about this than we are! I remember reading something long ago about children who have trouble giving up the bottle. The article said that children who associate the bottle with independence are reluctant to give it up. This happens if caregivers encourage an infant to hold the bottle himself and allow a toddler to carry the bottle around. Whereas children who are held when bottle fed, and not allowed to walk around with a bottle, tend to give it up in favor of a cup since they associate the bottle with dependence.

What do you think?

Nip this in the Bud

Dear Nip,

Makes sense. A lot of the habits children grow into can be shaped by the caregivers. The best use of a bottle is as an alternative to breastfeeding and it should be associated with being held, rocked, sung to, etc. It’s part of the nurturing relationship that all babies need. But babies outgrow babyhood. The drive for independence is observed in an early walker—directing you this way and that as she steadies her balance with your support. In the next two years you will see and hear more evidence—in a single word, “No!”—as she craves to do more and more things “by myself!” As parents and caregivers we usually applaud these strides, encouraging dressing and undressing, problem solving with toys, and turning emotional outbursts into effective speech, as well as self-feeding. The growing child finds ways other than a bottle to drink, fall asleep, and comfort himself. Babyhood falls away in the process. By around age four, most children see bottles as babyish and may tease a member of their peer group who still uses them. Unless your family is socially isolated, this could be an issue. A preschooler, kindergartener, or an early elementary school student who has not learned other means of de-stressing would likely be mortified if his classmates discovered he still found comfort in sucking a baby bottle. You are wise to look ahead to prevent this social-emotional dilemma.

If sucking is part of your baby’s need for going to sleep, a bottle of milk should at some point be replaced with water to reduce the risk of cavities. At nap time and bedtime, books and storytelling can be added as the child shows interest. A bedtime reading habit can become a satisfying lifelong ritual. For meal times, it’s a good idea to introduce a cup for milk and other liquids. “Sippy cups” have the advantage of a lid to minimize spills as they help the child learn to master the fine motor skills required for graduating to an open cup. Straws are fun and also recommended for speech development. The open cup demands different mouth and tongue movements which speech pathologists prefer to prolonged use of the sippy cup.

If you want to get off on the right foot with your toddler’s independence, I recommend limiting any drinking— whether by bottle or cup – to on your lap or at the table.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com” data-mce-href=”mailto:editor@chesapeakefamily.com“>editor@chesapeakefamily.com.

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