- It’s also an age on which you can have a lot of influence. “At this age, if you tell them it’s bad, they think it’s bad,” says Paul Coleman, a father, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. So state your values firmly, work on establishing good communication with your child, and set an example by avoiding overuse of alcohol.
Young grade-schoolers vary in their curiosity about alcohol, depending on how much people use and discuss it at home. But they’re probably starting to hear more about drinking from friends at school, which makes this a perfect age to teach the facts and bolster the self-esteem that can help children resist alcohol abuse during the teen years.
It’s also an age on which you can have a lot of influence. “At this age, if you tell them it’s bad, they think it’s bad,” says Paul Coleman, a father, family therapist, and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. So state your values firmly, work on establishing good communication with your child, and set an example by avoiding overuse of alcohol.
How to talk about it
Focus on health. At this age, it’s important for your child to receive praise for taking care of his body and overall health. Just as you tell him that he needs to avoid too much sugar and brush his teeth daily, make sure he knows that too much of anything can be harmful. Explain that alcohol is a drug and that, even in tiny amounts, it’s especially dangerous for children because their bodies and brains are still growing and developing.
Make your values clear. Many parents assume that their children are aware of how they feel about alcohol, as well as cigarettes and drugs — but you need to discuss these issues openly; your grade-schooler can’t simply absorb your values by osmosis.
In fact, you’ve got competition, given that friends, movies, and video games may depict drunkenness as funny or even cool. It’s your job, as the parent, to communicate your values clearly. In addition to not drinking excessively in front of your child, you can teach him the value of self-discipline in concrete and positive ways.
Skip the lectures — just comment, if a character in a movie gets drunk, that you think the person is being foolish. Say aloud at dinner that you’ve finished your one glass of wine and that it was enough. You can also focus on temptations that have real meaning for the grade-school crowd: “Mmmm,” you can say at the ice-cream store, “that sundae was really good. More ice cream might taste good, but it would be bad for my body and might even make me a little sick.”
Be approachable. Now is the time to establish yourself as a parent who will answer any question — no matter how difficult or disturbing — calmly and thoughtfully. When your child reaches middle school and starts to have serious questions about alcohol and drugs, it will help if you have a history of heart-to-heart talks.
Right now, he may not have many specific questions about alcohol, but you can set the stage for tomorrow’s talks about drinking and peer pressure by answering today’s questions about sex and bodily functions. And since many grade-schoolers do have relatives or family friends who get drunk at family parties or who abuse alcohol regularly, at this age he could have a lot of questions about this behaviour and other people’s reactions to it. Don’t duck the issue.
Teach him how to say no. If your child can learn from an early age to assert his views confidently, he’ll be better able to withstand the peer pressure of the preteen and teen years, when drinking becomes more common. Listen to him when he states his opinions, and when you disagree with him, do so politely and respectfully.
Childrenwho consistently hear, “That’s a silly idea, why would anyone think that?” or “Don’t you argue with me!” are, as teens, less sure of themselves, more rebellious, and less able to heed those inner voices preaching good sense.
Reassure your child that you approve of him. Children are more vulnerable to alcohol abuse if they think poorly of themselves or if they’re starved for affection and attention. Spend time with him: Studies show that children who eat at least one meal a day with their families and share at least one weekly activity are less likely to drink.
What children ask ... What parents answer
Your 6-year-old is ready for a very simple explanation: “Alcohol is a chemical that’s in some drinks, like beer and wine. Adults can drink a little bit as a treat — just like eating a little ice cream is a treat. But if they drink too much, alcohol is poisonous to their bodies.
They get silly, then sick and dizzy and headachy. Eventually, if people drink way too much alcohol, it can kill them.” Older children will want — and need — further information: “If people drink a lot of alcohol, it’s like cigarettes or drugs — they can get addicted, which means they have trouble stopping themselves from drinking.
And if you get addicted, you may drink so much that you poison a part of your body called the liver. If your liver wears out, you die. Also, people who are drunk can’t drive safely, even though they sometimes think they can. Drunk drivers cause car accidents that hurt or kill themselves or other people.”
“Can I have a sip of your drink?” If you think your child should never touch alcohol, tell him, “No, it can make you sick. Your body is still growing, so alcohol is very bad for you in ways that it’s not bad for grown-ups.” Other parents believe that letting their child sample a drink will remove the mystery, and hence the appeal.
In that case, say, “All right, just one taste,” and be prepared to hear your child say, “Yuck! That’s awful — why do you like it?” Then you can explain that grownups and kids like different foods and drinks, but that you agree that too much alcohol tastes bad to you too.