How we talk to our very young kids about alcohol

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Last night at dinner, my two and a half year old daughter asked her grandma what she was drinking at the restaurant (it was a chocolate martini) and when her grandma told her "it's a drink for grown ups," my daughter responded, completely unphased, "Like beer?" shrugged, and then went back to chasing her brother around the restaurant table annoying all of the other patrons like normal.

Inspired by a post I recently read at Rage Against the Minivan, I want to write about how we have chosen to Talk Early to our kids about alcohol.  As early as toddler/preschool age level in our case!  

It takes only a quick pin-search of my blog and you'll find that the top hit on my site is about the Beer Olympics.  Followed closely behind by all my other posts about being a mom to little kids; which don't necessarily seem like they go together in any capacity.  But I'm here to tell you - they can, and do!

Our very young kids have attended parties where alcohol is present and have sat at the same dinner table while their parents enjoyed a glass of wine or beer.  Alcohol is not a secret at our house, but something that our kids see regularly.  But more than that - and this is the really important part - it is something that we have talked about together as a family.

We have had conversations together about how drinking alcohol is a grown up activity and dangerous for kids; like many other things we talk about with our preschoolers (see below).  We have explained that beer and alcohol can make a kid really sick if they drink it; that they will likely throw up.  We also talk about how when grown ups drink too much beer or alcohol - they get sick too and throw up.  We have discussed with them, as preschoolers, that beer and alcohol can make grown ups feel confused and sleepy which can make it hard for grown ups to make good choices.  (TV and movies offer no lack of examples of intoxicated actors making poor choices - even the G rated movies usually have some comic relief actor who behaves drunkenly!)

And so we keep talking about it.  And talking about.  And talking about, in hopes that it is clear that drinking is not something that is a secret, or mysterious, or exotic.  It is something we can ask questions about, we can notice, and we can talk about now and forever together.

When brainstorming about writing this post, I sat with our kids to test their understanding about the concept of grown up activities versus kid activities.  So we created together two lists:  One for the things that only grown ups and parents do and the other a list of things that only kids do that grown ups and parents don't (or at least don't do regularly)....keep in mind, my kids are only 2 and 4 years old, so this list is extremely basic.  I asked them their thoughts and they supplied the items in the list* 

Grown ups & Parents Do (but not kids):
  • Drink beer
  • Use tools by themselves
  • Not wearing diapers
  • Chewing Snuff (tobacco)
  • Smoking cigarettes (we don't smoke, but they see other grown ups that do)
  • Saying curse words
  • Going to work
  • Drinking coffee

Things Kids Do (but not grown ups or parents usually):
  • Playing with toys
  • Climbing on furniture or doors/walls
  • Getting carried and held
  • Wearing a diaper
*I cleaned up the language a little to make it more clear for readers- ie. 'bang a hammer' (4year old description) to 'Use tools by themselves' (Mum's cleaned up version for the blog) and 'hold you' (2year old description) to 'getting carried and held' (Mum's cleaned up version for the blog).

As parents, we know that it is important (obviously - but I gotta say it aloud, right, internet?) that everything should be kept within moderation; alcohol and cursing alike.  And it's vastly important to us to not only explain to our kids about moderation, but be models of moderation as well.  

We want to be as transparent as possible to our kids that there are certain things that grown ups do that are dangerous or inappropriate for kids to do...yet.  Just like lots of things (riding a bike without training wheels, driving a car, etc) there are activities that kids are not yet ready to do, but will be ready someday in the future.  

And although drinking alcohol or smoking are a little more awkward of a conversation to have than say why they can't drive a car yet - it's still an important discussion to have.  The more we approach the uncomfortable topics with explanations and confidence (just like we would with why they can't drive a car) the easier it seems for them to accept and learn about it, rather than making it taboo.

Our list of 'grown up' activities will no doubt expand as they get older and become more curious about various (less G rated) activities, and we will tackle those awkward yet insanely important conversations as well when the time comes.  And someday in the future - we hope to have been as clear as possible to our kids on how to approach all of those 'grown up' activities with awareness, knowledge, and safety.  The goal is to take the mystery and scariness out of topics and situations so that they can see them with a clear head and make a decision for themselves when that day comes.

Footnote: our kids have not attended the Beer Olympics for two years, and will continue not to attend as the event is not an example of moderation.  But rather a raucous - albeit safe!!- event that is entirely for grown ups.  Instead, they spend the day with their Pappy and Gigi doing little kid activities like swimming and visiting amusement parks.  We talk about the event together though and they see pictures of the day in our family yearbook.  We answer their questions if they have them (which usually is about who was the winner) and remind them that they get a fun day of kid stuff to do while we spend the day with other grown ups doing grown up things.  Again...the key being we talk, talk, talk about it.


  1. Love this. We are SOOO on the same page =)

  2. So great! Sick and tired (and tired and sick) of being judged by people when we are out with our kids and have a drink or two. High five!