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Ages 1-11 → teacher

Our main parenting goal for this stage: Become their #1 go-to source for information about alcohol.

What’s happening

Until puberty, the prefrontal cortex remains in the earlier stage of development, which affects emotional maturity, abstract thinking and reasoning skills. Kids are still developing a sense of the world around them and are literal-minded. They’re happiest when not presented with too many choices, and believe what we tell them about the world.

What do our kids need?

Children in this stage need a trustworthy teacher to explain the world around them. If they feel they can come to us with questions about alcohol – even tough questions – and get honest answers, we’ll start to form a connection over the issue. This means they’ll be more likely to share drinking-related information as they grow.

Starting the conversation

Use teachable moments to ask questions

  • Point out examples of behaviour you consider right or wrong.
  • Ask for their opinions.
  • Use “What” or “How” as openers:
    • “How does alcohol affect the body?”
    • “What do you know about alcohol?”
    • “What is the problem if someone drinks and drives?”
    • “What is realistic about that movie/commercial? What is not?”
    • “What do you want to know about drinking alcohol?”

Provide answers as questions arise

  • Use honest, straightforward and simple language.
  • Provide facts, but also give your values and family expectations.
  • If you don’t know the answer, admit it and get back to them.

Young children need repetition. To understand and recall, they require many conversations.

Practical strategies

Set boundaries using clear “teaching” statements


  • “Alcohol is for adults only.”
  • “You have to be 18/19* to drink.”
  • “It’s wrong to drink before you’re legally allowed.”

*The legal drinking age varies by province in Canada.

Be consistent in words and actions

Avoid sending mixed signals by applying different rules for different situations (such as allowing teens to drink at home), or acting in a way that doesn’t reflect our stated rules and beliefs. Otherwise, children may get the idea that underage drinking is a “grey area,” in which the rules are flexible.

Young kids need to know that our rules about alcohol are hard and fast.

Check for understanding

Rather than simply stating rules, we need to ensure they’re getting through. From time to time, we can follow up with questions that gauge our children’s level of understanding.


  • “When we talked before, what did we say about alcohol?"
  • “How old do you have to be to drink?”
  • “Is it okay for kids to drink alcohol?”

Start the conversation with teachable moments

Children are learning about alcohol usage all around them – from books, movies, the internet and songs – even if parents never raise the subject. Use these teachable moments to start the discussion.

Ask an Expert

Family Talk is your go-to website for parenting information and support

Here you’ll find information on relationship approaches that work throughout the different stages of parenting, and a caring community of support. Through webinars, engaging blogs, how-to videos, the latest research findings, and our downloadable Parent Guide, Family Talk offers it all.


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