My 8-year-old son finally got to taste the communion wine. He made a horrible face and nearly spit it out. After the ceremony, he asked, “How can anyone want to drink that every day and like it?” It was hard for me to answer his question. I merely said, “You get used to it.”
That got me thinking about when I was first introduced to alcohol. My parents never talked to me about it. I knew they drank, and I saw people drunk on occasion. Then I remembered my high school and college years and the rampant alcohol abuse I witnessed. It was time to have the talk with my child. Trust me, this isn’t as painful as the birds and the bees. Here are some things to consider before you talk to your kids about drinking.
1. Make honest conversations a thing
If you never had a deep conversation with your child, talking about drinking isn’t going to be an easy opener. Make it easy for your child to talk honestly with you by starting a pattern of age-appropriate, open conversations about anything and everything. If they ask you if you drank before you were 21, tell them the truth. They’ll appreciate your honesty and be more willing to be honest with you if they think you’re paying them the same respect.
2. Let them know you care
As your kid gets older, they won’t be as welcoming of your attention and affection, but they still need to know you’re there. I don’t care how old they are; kids love your undivided attention. Carve out special one-on-one time (maybe doing something that’s more teen-friendly). You’ll be surprised how much they open up when it’s just the two of you.
3. Set consequences for breaking rules
This is a big one. The more clearly you set realistic expectations for your child’s behavior, the less likely they are to break them. Of course, you’ll have those times when they push the limit, but if you establish appropriate consequences for breaking rules and consistently enforce them, then they will know their boundaries.
4. Offer positive reinforcement
Let your child know that you appreciate their efforts as well as accomplishments. If you hear about a party or even where drinking was taking place and your kid came home completely sober, offer up a thank-you, a pat on the back… and maybe even a reward. Whether or not they let you know it, your kids want to make you proud, so let them know when they do.
5. Let them grow up
You have to let them be independent. You’re not going to be by their side at every moment in life, so you’ll have to trust that they’ll make good decisions. Help them weigh the pros and cons of underage drinking, and hope you’ve given them enough good info to make the right decision.
6. Don’t be unrealistic
The fact is, underage drinking is still a thing. Early adolescence is the time when many kids start to experiment with alcohol, and you need to deal with that before you ever sit down to talk to your kid. It’s hard to imagine your baby being offered a drink, but it’s going to happen, if it hasn’t already.
6. Give them an option
Since we’re being real here, let’s talk about the possibility that your kid may still have a few drinks, even after you’ve done all this talking. Encourage them to not make a bad situation even worse by climbing behind the wheel. Strike a deal that involves getting them home safely, maybe in lieu of punishment for a first-time offense.
7. Know that you’ve got this
When you do finally have the talk, don’t be afraid that you will mess it up. Research shows that parents have more influence than anyone else on a child’s decision about drinking. You probably think your kid is more concerned about fitting in than in what you have to say, but don’t underestimate your influence. They listen more than you think.
The earlier your child understands the risk factors of underage drinking, the better prepared you’ll all be — and the more ready to talk about even bigger, badder things to come.
This post was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch.