Research finds that so-called “sippy cups” — spill-free cups used by most American preschoolers — are linked to speech problems as well as early dental issues.
A sippy cup’s spout depresses a child’s tongue, thus contributing to “lazy tongue” syndrome — sloppy “th” and “st” sounds. Pediatric dentists say that because parents typically fill them with sugar-sweetened drinks, the cups increase the risk of early cavities.
Playtex, the original sippy cup manufacturer, counters that scientific evidence fails to support a connection between them and speech difficulties, and that concerning toddler cavities, the problem is sugar-sweetened drinks, not the cup itself. In other words, the problem is not the cups. Rather, the problem is parents.
The sippy cup controversy reflects a tendency on the part of today’s parents to overuse every manner of technology at their disposal to avoid or postpone working through fundamental child-rearing issues in a timely fashion.
Included are the overuse of disposable diapers to avoid toilet training, pacifiers to avoid teaching children to self-comfort, bottles and sippy cups to avoid wiping up the spills that come with teaching children how to drink from lidless cups, television and other screen-based devices to avoid teaching children how to entertain themselves creatively.
Sippy cups have a legitimate practical use: to serve as a transition between bottles and lidless cups/glasses. Personally, I prefer spout-less cups, ones with a drinking slot on one side of the lid and a small air hole on the other.
In any case, however, child-proof cups should be used for a limited time. The problems associated with the cups are not ones of design; rather, they’re of overuse. Of those sippy-sipping kids who have developed lazy tongue, I’ll wager most are kids (a) who were still drinking from sippys well past their second birthdays, (b) whose parents allowed unlimited access, (c) who were also using pacifiers past 6 months, or (d) all of the above.
As for cavities, the problem is parents who think soda, fruit-flavored punch and water all hydrate the body equally well, when the first two hardly hydrate at all. The human body is comprised primarily of water that is constantly being lost through breathing, evaporation, etc. and needs to be replaced. Americans — adults and children — need to drink more water. Oh, and by the way, water does not cause cavities. Nor does it stain when spilled.
At the very least, every time your child asks for milk, fruit juice or a flavored drink, tell them they must drink half a glass of water first. Chances are, after drinking the water, they’ll no longer be thirsty.
The bottom line on sippy cups: They should be used transitionally, between bottles and lidless cups/glasses, and be dispensed with by 18 months. Remember that pure water, not fruit punch, is the basis for biological life.