I make a lot of parenting decisions based on instinct and not necessarily from parenting books, parenting experts, or even friends and family. Every child is unique. Every family is unique. And every family situation is unique, especially as it relates to alcohol.
In my household growing up, you couldn’t find any alcohol in the house, not that I ever really looked for it. My mother grew up in a home that was plagued by alcoholism and I’m sure that contributed to the fact that not only did she not drink, but she didn’t want any of it in the house.
I’m sure there was a small bottle of scotch tucked away that had been given as a gift but I’m also sure that bottled gathered a tremendous amount of dust before finally being tossed. And I do remember my dad having a few cans of beer at the house from time to time. In fact, I can remember one afternoon when my dad was out with the neighbors having a beer, I asked him if I could have a sip. I have no clue how old I was but I’d estimate that it was right around 7 years old, the same age as my son.
The only thing I remember from that day is that I actually liked the taste of beer. Actually, I still like the taste of beer. And wine. And fancy fruity cocktails. And a very dirty martini.
My household is very different from the one I grew up in. We keep beer and wine in the house and a few bottles of liquor and the quantity certainly increases around the holidays. It’s not unusual for us to have neighbors over for an impromptu get together and it’s nice to be prepared. Or if we’re invited to a holiday party, we always have something we can grab and give.
But even without all the extra holiday festivities, I often stop and ask myself what I would do if my 7 year old asked me for a sip. I always assumed that I’d have a casual attitude about it. After all, don’t the Europeans let the wine and beer flow freely? My husband told me he had his first pint at 7 years old when he was visiting his grandfather in Ireland!
Research, however, shows that that sip your child asks for could have unintended consequences if you give it to them. I was one of those moms that thought withholding it only made it the forbidden fruit. In actuality, the opposite is true.
Adults who had taken their first drink before the age of 15 were seven times more likely to experience alcohol problems than those who didn’t start drinking before the age of 21.
The other thing that’s different about my household is that we talk openly and honestly about alcohol. What it does to your body, especially a developing body. Why it’s an adult drink. Why it’s best to wait until you’re 21.
Every once in a while, though, my son asks if he can have a sip. It’s not when I’m having a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a cookout. It’s usually when the drink seems especially appealing, like when we recently traveled to an all-inclusive resort in Turks & Caicos. The drinks were free flowing and actually quite beautiful. Of course that appeals to a kid!
That leads me to my advice on what to do when your kid asks for a sip. Keep them from your drink but make them their own.
If you’re drinking champagne out of a flute, pour him some sparkling apple juice in the same type of glass.
Celebrating with a nice bottle of red wine? Give him a wine glass with grape juice in it.
Having a fruit drink at a restaurant? Splurge and let him get a special drink too (my kid loves a good Shirley Temple).
Often times, I find that it’s not the appeal of actually having alcohol, but being able to take part in the ritual of drinking something festive. This year, as you gear up for some spiked eggnogg, an Irish coffee, or a New Year’s toast with champagne, remember to make a special drink for your kids to make them feel like they’re celebrating too.