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Q: My granddaughter is 3 and is still on the bottle. We don't know what to do.
A: Parents across the country have conquered bottle addiction with everything from warm water and fancy sipper cups to a ceremony at the garbage truck or a visit from the bottle fairy.
If one tactic doesn't work, wait a week and try another. But until the child is 2, you don't need to do anything. Toddlers still need the security that a bottle provides, parents and experts say.
"Children have an emotional need to suck which is independent of, and often outlasts, the nutritional needs of sucking," says Marcia McCoy, a parent from Minneapolis, Minn. "I wonder whether the problem is perhaps the parent's and not the child's."
Even at age 2, the only reason to wean children from the bottle is to protect their teeth, says Dr. Lillian Beard, a Washington pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Beyond age 2 it does affect the alignment of the primary teeth," Dr. Beard says. "And if you let a child go to sleep with milk or juice, there is a real danger of tooth decay."
Some parents have found this out the hard way.
"My 2 1/2 -year-old's teeth are all rotted, and we are facing $5,000 worth of root canals and caps," says Debra B. of Miami.
Several parents suggest a strategy that eliminates the threat of decay and decreases children's interest in the bottle.
"Give them the bottle, but only with water in it," says Kim Gomez of El Paso. "I found with both my children that after a few weeks they had no desire for the bottle anymore."
Cindi Miller, a nurse practitioner from Alamogordo, N.M., suggests warming the water.
"They soon realize they get water in the bottle and milk from a cup," Ms. Miller says. "Kids are real smart and will figure out which way to get the best drink."
Most parents find it easier to wean gradually. Lisa Hettler-Smith of San Jose, Calif., diluted the milk and juice with water a little each day until the bottle contained water only. Kathleen Sargent of Victoria, British Columbia, decreased the amount of liquid in general by two ounces a day. Beth Oas of Minnetonka, Minn., eliminated one bottle feeding every few days.
Susan Biasella of Cleveland limited the locations where her child was allowed to drink from a bottle. This helps with the tooth alignment problem, says Dr. Beard, because when children walk around with a bottle hanging from their mouths, it pulls on the teeth.
Four months before her son's second birthday, Mrs. Dwayne Lorens of Jordan, Minn., began mentioning how he'd be a big boy soon and would no longer need a bottle. She also began suggesting that on his birthday, he should throw it away.
The big day came, her son marched to the garbage and pitched his last bottle.
"The first present he opened was a fun new 'big boy' cup," Mrs. Lorens says. "He pouted some later, but that period of hearing about it let him prepare himself."
Several other parents let their 2- and 3-year-old children present their bottles to the garbage collector themselves.
After Norma Lane's son watched the garbage man flip the bottle onto the truck, they held hands and danced around in celebration.
"He asked for it once or twice later, and all I had to do was remind him of what he had done," the Portsmouth, Va., mother says.
While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed thi column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.
CAN YOU HELP?
Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.
* Imaginary friends: "My 2 1/2 -year-old has recently begun having imaginary friends," says D. B. of Miami. "I don't think that she believes they are real, but she does constantly play with them. Should we play along or discourage it?"