For parents of elementary aged children, the need to talk about avoiding alcohol and other drug use can feel like a long ways off. While it’s true that the pressure to drink with their friends, start using drugs, or hide substance-use behavior from parents may not be a daily struggle for 8-12 year olds, they are still exposed to drugs and alcohol and may form their opinions early.
Here are 5 ways to talk to your elementary-aged child about alcohol:
1- Explain how alcohol is bad for kids’ brains.
Tell kids their brains are growing every day in many different ways. When their brain takes in information from hearing words, reading books, or seeing neat things with their eyes, their brain processes it all, stores the good stuff, and grows bigger and bigger. Then explain that alcohol and other drugs slow that process down and stops their brain from growing bigger and smarter.
2- Use an analogy
Use an analogy to further drive your message. Have them imagine they are building with Legos and someone pours sticky syrup all over their Lego creation. They would not be able to build as well as before. Alcohol is like sticky syrup that wrecks what young brains are starting to build.
3- Be wary of your behaviour
Elementary-aged children watch and model themselves after their parents, so it’s important to be mindful of your behaviour when consuming alcohol. While we’re not suggesting that you hide drinks from your children or that you need to give up drinking altogether, we invite you to control the context in which your child is exposed to alcohol and other drugs.
Here are some quick tips on managing your child’s exposure to adult alcohol consumption:
- Do not involve your children in adult behaviors and restrict them from touching, sipping, fetching, or mixing alcohol.
- Make sure there are other non-alcoholic drinks offered to adults at mixed age parties or gatherings. Consider hosting or attending events where alcohol isn’t present.
- Be careful about how you talk about drinking around your kids. Avoid comments like “Whew, I had a hard day at work. I really need a beer tonight.”
4- Maintain open communication
Explain why adults may drink alcohol but children may not; because even in small amounts, it is harmful to the development of their brains and bodies. Talk to your child about the dangers and side effects of alcohol. Explain that alcohol is different than food and other drinks. Let your child know that people who drink too much alcohol get sick and throw up. Explain that too much alcohol can make some people stressed, angry and violent.
5- Address alcohol in advertising and media
Alcohol-related advertising can be found everywhere, especially in television, and it’s been proven to share a correlation with underage drinking among youth. When alcohol or other drugs is brought up on TV or you see a display out in the community, ask your child what they know and feel about alcohol and answer any questions they may have.
Starting the conversation with your child early will empower them to make smart and healthy decisions as they get older. Keeping an open dialogue will help you develop a closer relationship with your child which will make it easier to enforce rules later.
Visit our Talking Points page for more age-specific tips and downloadable guides on navigating the discussion on alcohol and other drugs.