As an SLP specializing in pediatric feeding, I often get parents and physicians asking me how to encourage toddlers and preschoolers to drink more water.
Many young kids in feeding treatment get “stuck” on one type of liquid, typically breast milk, formula or a supplemental high-calorie drink. Introducing water ensures that kids don’t fill their bellies with their favorite milk-like drinks and reduce their appetite for trying new foods. Plus, water is essential for gut health, regular bowel movements, and dental and vocal hygiene.
Here are five fun ways to help young clients enjoy drinking water:
- Tiny bears: The traditional honey bear straw cup, an idea recommended to feeding SLPs more than 20 years ago by Sara Rosenfeld Johnson and her team at TalkTools, continues to be a popular method for helping kids learn to drink liquids today. For smaller hands, I suggest ordering 6-ounce honey bears from Farmstand Supply on Amazon and using the same flexible straw, cut down to fit the smaller bear cup. The tiny size is perfect for a toddler’s grasp and the ideal height placed on the table for a smaller child. Add some self-adherent wrap or a few clean wide rubber bands to the bear’s belly to provide added grip. Be sure the wrap and the rubber bands are tight enough that little fingers cannot get underneath and get caught. With such a small cup, it’s much easier for kids to “drink it all gone” and be ready to refill it throughout the day. Refilling the cup gets kids thinking about drinking water, and that’s the key. Read more on how to teach straw drinking.
- Homemade oceans: One of my favorite strategies for encouraging kids to refill their cups involves filling a spouted water container and creating an incentive to visit often. First, position the container at the back of the countertop, where kids cannot pull it over onto the floor. Place a few heavy books under the container to raise the spout up so a small cup fits underneath. Every time the child finishes his cup of water, say, “Let’s go add another sea creature to the ocean!” Keep a stash of clean, plastic sharks, dolphins and fun sea creatures for the child to pick from and add to the “ocean.” It’s the perfect motivation to visit several times a day, but an empty cup is required to do so. The kids don’t get to play with the sea animals any other time—this keeps it novel for frequent requests to visit their “aquarium”!
- Cup fairy house: Help kids make a cardboard house for the “cup fairy,” who brings a new cup every morning just for them! Add inexpensive, spill-proof spouts—available with all sorts of cartoon characters—to a wide mouth, six-ounce vessel or just buy the version with apple juice and dump out the juice. Place the house inside a kitchen cabinet, where the kids need help to see what was left inside. Every day, say, “Let’s see what the cup fairy brought for you!” Then take the young client to the cup house and let him pull out a brand new cup. Now, go the homemade ocean (see #2 above) and fill it up! The same character-cup can go home and to bed with the child, thanks to the spill-proof top (which makes it an ideal companion for hydration at night). The next day, ask your client to leave it for the cup fairy when the new one appears. You—or the child’s parents—will need about six character cups to rotate through each week. This type of spout is similar to a short straw and the characters act as a natural lip block. It requires a stronger suck, but that can be calming for many children and may benefit muscle development.
- Infused water: I strongly advocate that feeding clients participate in food preparation. Adding fruits, herbs and vegetables to create subtly flavored water is an excellent way to get kids involved in handling new foods, encouraging them to drink more water and perhaps trying a new food, too! Using kid-safe knives, help kids slice cucumbers, mint, watermelon and other foods to add to the water. Popular combinations include oranges and strawberries, cucumbers and mint, pomegranate seeds and cantaloupe.
- Model good habits: Kids learn best through modeling, so last but not least, grab your water and enjoy!
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who experience difficulty eating. She co-authored “Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating” (2015), “Baby Self-Feeding: Solid Food Solutions to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits” and “Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids,” and produced the kids’ CD “Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!” Potock’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia). www.mymunchbug.com/contact-us/