Family gatherings around holidays and celebrations are marked by joy, lots of conversation, food and sometimes, alcohol. When your children are around, it opens the doors to many questions and may lead you to end up discussing alcohol and answering complicated questions. In my case it gets a little more complicated since my side of the family lives in Chile, where the laws are different and the legal drinking age is 18. That means my kids see 18, 19 and 20 year old cousins having a glass of wine during Passover or New Year’s Eve, which is normal in many Latin American countries but would be totally illegal in the US.
Instead of focusing on whether we think it is wrong or not, I’ve used this opportunity to talk about alcohol, responsibility and cultural differences. It’s not easy. However, by watching my own behavior in front of my children and being consistent about my answers when they ask about why rules are different in each country, they are understanding how adults can drink responsibly to mark a special occasion while it’s not okay for minors. So, during Passover, my daughter saw me drink wine as part of the ritual where we celebrate freedom, but I did not drive nor did I exceed my self-imposed two glass limit. That to me is showing her that you can celebrate but be responsible at the same time.
However, you cannot control the behavior of others during family gatherings, so be prepared to tackle other tough questions. Since my daughter is 8 years old, she wanted to know why a 17 year old cousin was allowed a sip from her mom’s wine glass. I explained to her that each family is different and that perhaps they aren’t aware of how bad alcohol is for developing minds and brains. Then I reminded her that even if other people don’t make the best decisions, it doesn’t mean we have to follow their lead. We should always do what we think is best for us and in our family, that means taking care of our health, being responsible and following the laws of the country where we live.
These conversations with our children are an ongoing process and we can find teachable moments every single day. If you haven’t addressed drinking or alcohol yet with your kids, keep in mind you should start creating open channels of communication early on. Always remember to listen to your children, follow their lead and avoid preaching to them. The way you approach these complicated topics will vary according to your child’s age, but the most important thing you can do is create an open door policy so instead of feeling judged, your kid feels he or she can talk to you about anything.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR) wants to inspire 2 million conversations about alcohol responsibility. Check out the infographic I have included here to help you be prepared for your child’s questions depending on his or her age. If you need more tips on how to approach conversations with your kids about alcohol, you can find more information about TalkEarly on FAAR’s site, follow the conversation on Twitter and check out their boards on Pinterest.
Disclosure: as part of the #TalkEarly initiative, I have received compensation for my involvement, but this post reflects my personal opinions.