How to behave with your children, whatever their age

You are the role model

Your attitude, your actions, your words, your choices have a major influence on your children even if you sometimes get the impression that they aren’t paying any attention to you.

At what age can they start to drink?

There is no particular age at which it is considered “normal” for children to start drinking. Even very young children sense – and often understand – the difference between alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic ones.

You may think it is best to offer your child a little wine at the family dinner table on special occasions, knowing full well that he could sneak a drink behind your back.

In some societies, it is considered beneficial to introduce children to drinking under controlled circumstances. Research shows that in these societies, the incidence of alcohol-related problems is lower.

Whatever you decide, under no circumstances should alcohol abuse ever be tolerated. Not for them, and not for you.

It’s never too soon

Kids often know a lot more than we think. Six-year olds already have a pretty good idea of what is socially acceptable behaviour for adults and children when it comes to alcohol. So you can start talking to them about drinking at a very early age.

Set the example yourselves

Children tend to mimic the behaviour of those they love and admire, especially that of their parents. It’s fairly safe to assume that your drinking habits are the ones your children will adopt later on. If drinking, both socially and while dining, is a part of your lifestyle, your children will grow up assuming that this kind of drinking is natural and occurs under happy, relaxed circumstances.

When you drink, drink moderately. Your attitude will set an example for your kids. If you or others in your circle abstain from drinking, you can simply point out that this is a personal choice.

How to behave with 8 to 11-year-olds

Be firm

  • Don’t imagine that children this age do not drink, even if alcohol is not a drink for children.
  • Just because you are having a drink doesn’t mean your children may. At a family occasion, your youngster may ask for a sip. He may whine and carry on. This is the time to take a clear stand.
  • You may allow him to wet his lips or take a tiny sip from your glass, so that he won’t be tempted to try it behind your back, say, when the glasses are being cleared from the table or when she finds a bottle left behind.
  • Allowing that little taste or a sip of something cut with water gives children an experience some of them are very eager for. It does not, however, give them outright permission to drink.
  • Explain the difference between drinking in moderation and abusing alcohol.

The idea is not for you to avoid drinking because of the children, but rather to show them that there is enjoyment in drinking moderately.

Every parent has a decision to make with each child, based on the age of the child and your own principles. Whatever you decide, stick to it. Explaining the reasons for your decision will help your children develop the ability to make their own informed decisions.

At children’s parties, be sure that…

  • there are organized games and activities;
  • there are plenty of snacks, soft drinks and juices;
  • an adult is around (not necessarily present every second, but always nearby).

Never leave children alone for the entire evening without supervision.

How to behave with 12 to 14-year-olds

Be vigilant

This is the age when teens start to experiment and test parental authority. They are looking to assert themselves and they want to try drinking to see what it feels like.

Don’t panic

If you discover that, despite your strict rule against it, your child has been drinking outside the house, don’t panic and don’t overreact. Kids who want to try drinking are obviously not going to do it at home or at school, where it is forbidden: they will do it at a party, in a park, in an alley or at a friend’s house. Above all, do not take it for granted that what is socially acceptable for you is the same for them.

Be firm

  • Explain to your child how alcohol affects the body and the kind of risks that are involved in drinking.
  • Be clear about your expectations and establish very specific rules that are reasonable and enforceable.
  • You may even want to sign an agreement, setting out very clearly the terms of the agreement, and the consequences if the child does not abide by them. Once you make an agreement, be sure you stick to it.

If, in your family, youngsters and teens are allowed to drink small quantities of alcohol on special occasions, make sure they understand the difference between those special occasions and the rest of the time.

How to behave with 15 to 16-year-olds

Peer pressure

This is the age when teens assert themselves more. They go out with groups of friends more often and there is pressure by some of the group “leaders” to do what everyone else is doing. At parties, they will surely want to have beer. Now is the time to remind them of your agreement, if you signed one.

And remember to stick to it.

In most families, on special occasions at home (birthdays, weddings, Christmas, etc.), alcohol is part of the celebration, and it is strongly associated with pleasure and enjoyment. Nevertheless, it is up to you to decide whether your teens may drink, and how much.

Support and supervise

  • Always know where your teens are, whom they’re with, what they are doing and how they are behaving. Provide support through supervision. Proper supervision is a key to good parenting, especially when it comes to drinking. Kids sense that you’re monitoring them, even when you’re not around. Just be sure that you don’t overdo it, and remember to trust your children.
  • Be in charge, but be reasonable. This means defining your expectations and establishing clear, reasonable and enforceable rules. Remember: parents who set limits while listening and remaining warm and loving have more success “protecting” their teens when it comes to drinking than do those who are strictly authoritarian or overly permissive.

How to behave with 17 to 18-year-olds


  • At this age (and sometimes earlier), teens who drink care little about what their parents think.
  • They are influenced by advertising that associates drinking with good times, and identify willingly with those happy people in the ads whose experiences seem to be as perfect as their bodies.
  • This is also the age when kids assert themselves and show off by driving fast. When alcohol is added to the mix, the risks skyrocket. If your teens are driving, remind them that they may be licensed to operate a car, but they are not allowed to have the slightest drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
  • Remember, too, that communicating with teens at this rebellious age can be more difficult because of their need to separate from their parents and forge their own identity.
  • According to Québec law, 18-year-olds are allowed to buy alcohol.

Be open

Don’t be afraid to speak frankly. Just because they’re as big as you are (or bigger!) doesn’t mean you’ve lost your right to have your say. When you talk with them, be sure that everyone’s views are heard and respected.

Talk to them about what can happen if they drink at work, at school, while playing sports, or when driving.

Maintain your emotional ties with them

The absence of an emotional connection with your teenagers, combined with a lack of support, makes them more vulnerable to peer pressure, which can influence them to drink, and to drink too much. It is up to you to try to achieve a balance between emotional connection and the kind of independence you want your kids to have.

Parents-Children Guide