5 simple things parents of primary school-aged children can do to help their kids make better choices around alcohol later in life

All parents want their children to have healthy attitudes towards alcohol. If their child does choose to drink when they are older, they want to do their very best to ensure that they drink responsibly and are as safe as possible. Too often parents wait until their child wants to try alcohol or be invited to a party where alcohol may be available before having a discussion about their expectations when it comes to teen drinking.

The earlier you start the discussion, the greater the chance you have of having a positive influence in this area. I wish I could get more parents of primary or lower secondary school-aged children to come to my Parent Information Evenings - it's a constant battle with many of them believing that it is not yet an issue and that they'll deal with that problem when it arises. In fact, parents of primary school-aged children, in particular, have a great opportunity to make a real impact in this area and if you put some effort in nice and early, there is a real possibility that you will not need to work quite as hard in the teen years. What you need to remember is that there are three basic principles that can lead to their child having a healthy and positive attitude towards alcohol, as well as ensuring they are a little safer if they do choose to drink:
  • Never underestimate the power of role modelling
  • Authoritative parenting, incorporating rules and consequences bound in unconditional love, reduces the risk of future risky drinking
  • Delay, delay, delay – try to delay your child’s first drink of alcohol for as long as possible

With these three things in mind, here are 5 practical things that parents of primary school-aged children can do to help them make better choices around alcohol when they get older: 

1. Occasionally decline a drink of alcohol
Such a simple thing to do but so powerful! If you are a non-drinker then you are already making a very strong statement about your views on alcohol (hopefully you're not making huge statements about the 'evils of drink' as that is most probably not the best idea!) but you are making it very clear to your child that you do not need to drink to socialise. If you do drink, however, a simple gesture of putting your hand over a glass when you are offered a drink at a family function says so much to your child - it shows them that you can say 'no' when you want to and that you can socialise with others without relying on alcohol. Make a big deal about this or do it begrudgingly, however, and it will have the opposite effect - children will very quickly pick up on actions that are not genuine.
2. Create rules around alcohol and parties as early as possible
If you make these rules before they want to drink or start being invited to parties where alcohol may be present you are going to make your life so easy in the future. Try to make a rule around a party the first time they get invited to one and you are highly likely to find yourself in all sorts of trouble! On the other hand, if you sit with your 12 year-old and talk about rules around alcohol (i.e., "alcohol is adult activity, you're not to drink!"), well before they've even thought about drinking, you're not going to meet nearly as much resistance. In fact, most 12 year-olds are going to be quite surprised that the discussion even came up but will most probably accept the rules without question. It is important to remember that rules around alcohol are not just for teenage parties, they need to be for all events - family functions (dinners and BBQs), special events (weddings, New Year's Eve) and the like.
3. Find family activities where alcohol is not involved
Sadly this can be one of the most difficult things to do for some parents ... alcohol is such a huge part of our culture and central to many activities we take part in but it is important for children to see that it is possible to have fun with families and friends and not drink alcohol. Of course, there are family excursions such as a visit to a museum or playing in the park where alcohol is highly unlikely to play a role, but trying to find activities involving socialising with other adults where your kids are present and not having alcohol being available can be hard - sometimes you just need to make your own rules in this area. Having a child's birthday party and not making alcohol available for the adults is a great idea, but unfortunately is not always popular. The same goes for a picnic in a park with friends - ask for it to be alcohol-free and there will be a lot of raised eyebrows ...
4. Identify a non-drinker in your family or friendship group
As already said, if you or your partner is a non-drinker then you are already doing some active role-modelling in this area. It's also important to acknowledge that if you drink responsibly, you're also practising some positive role modelling! If you do drink alcohol, however, finding and identifying a non-drinker in your family or friendship group can be extremely useful in exposing your child to the fact that 'non-drinking' is a real and valid option. There are three types of drinking - risky drinking, responsible drinking and non-drinking - we talk so much about the first two but rarely, if ever, acknowledge the third as a valid choice. It is important not to make a big deal about the fact that this person doesn't drink - they certainly shouldn't be presented as something 'special' - it's that different adults make different choices around lots of things, including alcohol, some people will drink, others won't - it's a personal choice and that's ok!

5. Decide on an 'out' word or phrase
Peer influence is starting at a younger and younger age and deciding on an 'out' word or phrase to help them get out of situations and still 'save face' can be extremely helpful, particularly if it's done nice and early. Ask your child if they have ever been in a situation with their friends which they found difficult or uncomfortable. Talk about peer and social pressure and maybe discuss some of the things that you do to help you through difficult situations. Let them know that everyone, even adults, need assistance in trying to deal with peer and social pressure. Between you, come up with an 'out' word or phrase that can be used in either a text message, a phone call or a conversation whenever he or she wants to be taken out of a situation. Let them know that you're happy to be the 'bad guy' and will take the blame at anytime to help them get out of situations they feel uncomfortable in.


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