When to talk to your child about alcohol

The age of your child’s first drink is crucial, so it’s important to talk to them before they have their first experience with alcohol. Their attitudes will change over time so read our ‘how to talk to kids’ guide to help you know what to say when.


9-12 years 11-14 years 13-17 years 8-10 years

How to talk to kids aged 8-10

At this age children’s perceptions of alcohol are usually negative.

Questions your child might ask

Children may start to take notice when people around them are drinking, for example at the dinner table or a family occasion like a wedding. They may ask simple questions such as,”What is that?” or “Why do you drink?” 

How to answer them

Explain to your child that alcohol is only for adults and that there is a sociable side to alcohol, but if you drink too much there can be bad consequences for your health and safety.

Offer a listening ear

As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all. Offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts. Reassure them that you will listen to their experiences and wont judge them if they have tried alcohol.

Use conversation triggers 

Having a plan will make your life easier. Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start to conversation and keep it going.

Set rules

You might think being too strict could mean they rebel. But research shows if parents set rules about drinking, young people are less likely to get drunk, so it’s important to work together to agree boundaries around alcohol. Agree on realistic consequences if they break the rules, and follow through if necessary, but reward them if they keep to them.

Find out how much they already know

If your child asks you a question about alcohol they’re open to further discussion, so take the time to find out how much they already know and make sure they know the right facts.

How to talk to kids aged 9-12

At this age children will become more curious about alcohol.

Questions your child might ask

What does it taste like?
What does alcohol do to you?
What does being drunk feel like?
If you're drunk, do you stay drunk forever?

How to answer them

This is a good time to talk to kids about the impact of alcohol on the body. You could also explain how it feels to be drunk, for example, you might do silly things or feel sick. You might want to talk about the difference between drinking in moderation and abusing alcohol. Make sure your child understands that different types of alcohol have different strengths.

Offer a listening ear

As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all. Offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts. Reassure them that you will listen to their experiences and wont judge them if they have tried alcohol.

Have a plan

Having a plan will make your life easier. Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start to conversation and keep it going.

Use conversation triggers

If an opportunity to talk to your child doesn’t present itself, try using triggers to prompt discussion. These could include: At dinner while having a drink with your meal. Alcohol-related news stories, soap opera storylines, documentaries or anecdotal school stories. Asking what they have learnt about alcohol at school. If they’ve learnt about calories, you could draw the comparison between eating too much bad food and getting fat, and drinking too much and getting ill. After special occasions where people are drinking, like a wedding or birthday party. When you’re unpacking the shopping or in the alcohol aisle of the supermarket.

Set rules

You might think being too strict could mean they rebel. But research shows if parents set rules about drinking, young people are less likely to get drunk, so it’s important to work together to agree boundaries around alcohol. Agree on realistic consequences if they break the rules, and follow through if necessary, but reward them if they keep to them.

Get to know your children's friends' parents

They might share your concerns, so you so you could agree on rules around parties and supervision. You can also share anecdotes, which might help you prepare for your own conversations.

Find out how much they already know

If your child asks you a question about alcohol they’re open to further discussion, so take the time to find out how much they already know and make sure they know the right facts.

Encourage them to make decisions

Learning about drinking isn’t only about factual alcohol education. By helping your child learn how to weigh up the pros and cons of other scenarios, like which secondary school to go to or whether to travel home alone, you can prepare them for making their own decisions about alcohol.

 

How to talk to kids aged 11-14

By ages 11 to 14 children may be experimenting with alcohol. They could be offered drinks by a friend or might seek to try it themselves. You might be thinking about giving them a small amount.

Questions your child might ask

Can I have some of your drink? 
Why are you allowed to drink but I’m not?

How to answer them

Now’s a good time to talk about peer pressure and help your child think of ways to deal with any pressure they might be under to drink. You might want to discuss rules about drinking and agree consequences should they break these – making it clear the rules are there to keep them safe.

Offer a listening ear

Make sure your child knows that drinking is a decision. Try talking about ways they can say “no” so they feel confident in that situation. They could say they are training for a sports match the next day or that they have a rehearsal or a family event.

Get the timing right

Pick a time with neither of you feel rushed or under pressure. Avoid starting a conversation about alcohol just as your child is going to bed or walking out the door to a party.

Encourage them to make decisions

Learning about drinking isn’t only about factual alcohol education. By helping your child learn how to weigh up the pros and cons of other scenarios, like which secondary school to go to or whether to travel home alone, you can prepare them for making their own decisions about alcohol.

How to talk to kids aged 13-17

By this age your child may have had a number of alcoholic drinks and tested their limits – so might consider themselves experienced drinkers.

Questions your child might ask

Can I take some drink to the party?

Can you buy me some drinks?

But all my friends are drinking why can't I?

How to answer them

Explain to your kids that alcohol is only for adults and that there is a sociable side to alcohol, but if you drink too much there can be bad consequences for your health and safety.

If you know your child is drinking, make sure they’re aware of the risks and give them tips to help them stay safe. If they’re going out, find out who they are with and what they are planning to do. Agree with your children that if they ever get into a situation involving alcohol where they feel uncomfortable, they can call and get picked up, no questions asked.

It’s important to be aware of how accessible alcohol is in your house and not to provide your child with alcohol. But if you do decide to, make sure you give them non-alcoholic drinks too and encourage them to alternate.

Use conversation triggers

If an opportunity to talk to your child doesn’t present itself, try using triggers to prompt discussion. These could include: At dinner while having a drink with your meal. Alcohol-related news stories, soap opera storylines, documentaries or anecdotal school stories. Asking what they have learnt about alcohol at school. If they’ve learnt about calories, you could draw the comparison between eating too much bad food and getting fat, and drinking too much and getting ill. After special occasions where people are drinking, like a wedding or birthday party. When you’re unpacking the shopping or in the alcohol aisle of the supermarket.

Have a plan

Having a plan will make your life easier. Rather than waiting for something bad to happen, think about when and how you are going to start to conversation and keep it going.

Offer a listening ear

As a parent the worst thing you can say about drinking is nothing at all. Offering a listening ear is just as important as telling your child the facts. Reassure them that you will listen to their experiences and wont judge them if they have tried alcohol.

Get the timing right

Pick a time with neither of you feel rushed or under pressure. Avoid starting a conversation about alcohol just as your child is going to bed or walking out the door to a party.

Teach them that they can say no

Make sure your child knows that drinking is a decision. Try talking about ways they can say “no” so they feel confident in that situation. They could say they are training for a sports match the next day or that they have a rehearsal or a family event.

Keep your children occupied

Drinkaware research shows one in six children drink because they are bored. If you can, offer a space where your child can spend time with their friends without alcohol or encourage them to take up a hobby.

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Page updated: October 2014