Jello shots, beer pong, binging…what do these references to alcohol have to do with elementary age children? A lot. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that the time to start talking to your children about underage drinking is when they are very young, which means elementary school age or even younger.
It is not as difficult to talk about health issues to young children as it may seem, because they look up to parents. They watch what mom and dad do, and they listen to what he or she says. Because of this, the NIAAA urges parents to give simple messages to children that alcohol can cause harm.
The dialogue must begin early, as our society sends confusing messages about alcohol use. Young children see images of teens and adults on television and in the movies having fun while drinking. Many times alcohol is also an integral part of family celebrations and community events; however, what the child doesn’t understand are the consequences of drinking, especially on developing brains.
Parents then need to establish open lines of communication about this issue when children are very young. It may be odd at first to talk about drinking expectations with your son or daughter, but it is not impossible. It helps if you view these discussions about alcohol as opportunities to curb negative habits years in the future.
First and foremost, work to develop a relationship where the child feels that he or she can always be honest with you. Everyone makes mistakes, especially children, but when they know that they can admit mistakes without fear or being shamed, true opportunity for growth and maturity can occur. It makes sense that when your child can be honest with you, they will let you know when a friend or acquaintance offers them alcohol for the first time.
Next, make sure that your child knows that he or she is important to you. This can be done by doing favorite activities together, such as playing catch, going for a walk, or even watching a favorite show. Even the busiest parents must make time for weekly, if not more frequent, one-on-one “dates” with each child. This is because children should feel cherished by their parents. When they do, they are better able to resist peer pressure concerning alcohol.
Also, look for teachable moments concerning alcohol. Because we live in a culture that promotes drinking, you are bound to see an advertisement or a television show that glorifies it. Take time to discuss what you see with your child. You don’t need long, drawn out explanations, but if you demystify drinking and present some facts about how alcohol may harm people, that will be enough.
A final way to help your child be ready to resist underage drinking is by role-playing with them. It may seem silly to practice refusal skills, but studies have shown that children are much better equipped to deal with tricky situations if they have role-played what to do before hand. Saying no and meaning it is a skill. We know that even as adults, it can be difficult to say no when being pressured to do something by others, especially close friends.
Three Ways to Say No and Mean It (NIAA)
- Stand up straight.
- Say how you feel.
- Don’t make excuses.
Parents do have power over every aspect of their child’s life. What we say to them concerning alcohol does make a difference. When a child is elementary school age, it is essential to talk about alcohol use and abuse. What you say doesn’t have to be complicated, even simple discussions have a huge impact on the choices they will make about underage drinking in both middle and high school.