It can be difficult to know what to do if you discover your son or daughter is drinking alcohol underage – especially in large quantities. In this blog Ruth Spencer, Area Manager for Aquarius, a charity which provides specialist services to young people who use alcohol and other drugs, offers some top tips for how to approach your child if you are worried about their drinking.
It’s really difficult when you discover that your child is drinking.
So many thoughts go through your mind: “I should have noticed.”, “I should have locked it away or never drank at home.”
The reality is that alcohol is readily available and we can’t shield our children from it. It’s everywhere – but we can face the issue, open the conversation up and show them unconditional love.
It’s natural that you want to care for your children, protect them and push them to change. It’s in these moments when our natural reaction is to take action and take control.
I’ve heard many a time from parents “I yelled at them but they didn’t listen”, “ I panicked and threw every drop in the house away”. However allowing time and just being in the moment with your child can be really powerful and shape the journey of change.
When do I talk to my child about their drinking?
It often feels like no time is the right to talk about alcohol. But try following these tips:
- Choose a calm and peaceful moment instead of waiting up and pouncing when they walk in the door late at night.
- Choose a place that feels safe to talk. Feelings of guilt and shame can make it really hard to be open in busy public spaces where others may over hear.
- Choose to speak to them while you’re doing other activities together. Having an out and something else to focus on if your child is not ready to talk can be helpful and still starts the conversation.
- Choose to listen and understand. Be open to hearing why they drink and what difference it makes to them. This can be a positive step in finding solutions.
- Choose your moment. If someone is drunk they may get angry, be dismissive and want to avoid the conversation.
What do I say to my child about their drinking?
We all make mistakes so let’s not start the conversation by labelling their drinking as a problem.
Using terms like ‘alcoholic’, can get your child’s back up. Remember they are learning, experiencing life and trying to work out their limits. Drinking is often seen as a badge of honour, a right of passage when you turn 18 and is advertised everywhere.
You can help them start to consider their drinking but the best person for them to talk to is their GP, school nurse or a specialist worker if they are drinking high levels, forming patterns or finding it hard to make change.
Be curious and learn together by searching the dangers of alcohol with them online. Finding stories of what others have gone through can help to normalise what your child is experiencing and could help you both reach a conclusion about whether professional support is something that is needed.
It can be really tempting to want to respond and advise but learning together can put strong boundaries in place and also demonstrates that no one knows it all and this is a new experience to work through. Learning also gives the opportunity to keep the conversation going and to ask questions such as:
- What does it feel like?
- What do you like about it?
- What do you usually drink?
- How about your friends?
- Can I do anything to help you?
Asking questions that are open is a really empowering way to have a conversation and really listen to your child.
Aquarius use the Five Step Method when speaking to the people we work with and have adapted these steps to use with adults, children of those affected and those bereaved by alcohol. Its important to remember that even when things get tough there are choices and people who can support you through it.
Our approach follows these five steps:
- Understanding the problem
- Gathering information and learning
- Exploring ways of coping and managing the situation
- Increasing your support
- Identifying what further help you need
Whenever supporting someone it is always important to remember that you need help and support too. Someone to talk to and help rationalise what you are going through. Ensuring you stay well, helps others too.
Written by Ruth Spencer
Aquarius is a charity with services across the Midlands, supporting adults and young people affected by alcohol, other drugs and gambling. Find out more about their services on their website.
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, there is help available.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
More information about organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.