Is drinking alcohol when responsible for a child OK?

With street parties in the diary for most British UK this weekend, how much alcohol is too much when celebrating alongside children? Have your say in our poll.

Is it ever ok to get drunk when your children are there? (Getty Images)
How much alcohol is OK when responsible for a child? (Getty Images)

King Charles’s coronation will be marked with street parties up and down the country this weekend.

Alongside the Union Jack bunting and regal snacks, there's likely to be plenty of free-flowing alcohol.

Celebrating the Carolean era and an extra bank holiday certainly calls for the popping of corks and the raising of a few glasses of fizz as the nation collectively lets down its hair.

But for parents celebrating alongside their children, how much alcohol is too much when you're responsible for a youngster?

Drinking alcohol with your kids present: a divisive issue

The issue of drinking when your children are present is something of a divisive issue. For some it's a complete no-go while others think nothing of having a glass of wine (or several) to unwind.

A recent survey, from the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, published by Oxford University Press, found that around a third (33.9%) of parents reported drinking a glass of alcohol each day or a couple of times a week.

Almost a fifth (18.2%), took things a stage further, admitting to getting slightly drunk and 7.8% indicated getting visibly drunk each day or a couple of times a week with their children present.

What impact does drinking alcohol around children have on them?

Addiction and family recovery specialist Victoria Seed, points to a particular piece of research, published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in 2017, Like Sugar for Adults, which looked at the impact of non-dependent drinking on children and parenting.

The report found that almost a third (29%) of parents reported having been drunk in front of their child, while just over half said they have been tipsy.

Just under a third (29%) thought it was ok to get drunk in front their child as long as it did not happen regularly.

This weekend's Coronation celebration is likely to see many parents drinking alcohol. (Getty Images)
This weekend's Coronation celebration is likely to see many parents drinking alcohol. (Getty Images)

In terms of how drinking impacted children, 18% had felt embarrassed and 11% had felt worried.

A further 7% claimed their parents argued with them argued with them more than usual and 8% said their parents had been more unpredictable.

Other negative impacts included parents paying their children less attention (12%) and bedtime routines being disrupted; either by being put to bed earlier or later than usual, which was the case for 15% of children.

The research also found that if a child had seen their parent tipsy or drunk, they were less likely to consider the way their parent drinks alcohol as providing a positive role model for them – regardless of how much their parent usually drank.

"Ultimately, [the study revealed that] parents don’t have to be wasted for children to understand that there is a difference in their behaviour," Seed explains.

"They can experience negative feelings but also have an understanding that their parents have less boundaries and control over their children when they have had a drink, so can get away with more."

How much alcohol is it safe to drink when your children are present? (Getty Images)
How much alcohol is it safe to drink when your children are present? (Getty Images)

Psychologist Barbara Santini says witnessing a parent consuming alcohol can have a profound impact on a child's psyche and lead to long-lasting emotional and psychological effects.

"For instance, any kind of irresponsible behaviour associated with consuming alcohol can send a negative message to impressionable young minds about how adults should handle such substances safely," she says.

"Parents who drink around their children may set a poor example for how they want their kids to behave when they're out socialising.

"This is particularly true if the parent has consumed too much alcohol and has acted inappropriately in public.

"Being able to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible alcohol consumption is something everyone must learn, and seeing parents fail miserably at this task may make teaching adolescents difficult later on."

Getting drunk while in charge of a young child is an official offence

Seed says there are some other things to keep in mind before you crack open the Aperol, starting with the fact getting drunk with your kids present could land you in trouble with the law.

"It’s actually an offence, in accordance with The Licensing Act 1902, to be ‘drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, while having the charge of a child apparently under the age of seven years’," she says.

"It’s really important to consider then, that there’s a difference between having a drink and being drunk, which is one to keep in mind when drinking around children."

Another aspect to consider is safeguarding. "If drinking leads to neglect of a child, then Children’s Services potentially could get involved, even as a one-off incident if they felt neglect or any other form of abuse occurs," Seed continues.

Is it ever OK to drink alcohol with your kids present?

Believe it or not there are some positive aspects to drinking, mindfully, while your children are present.

According to Santini modelling responsible behaviour could help teach kids how to drink safely in the future.

"By following guidelines such as setting an age limit for safe alcohol consumption and not overdoing it on quantity, children can gain a better understanding of appropriate drinking habits from an early age," she explains.

"This can reinforce messages from education programmes at school and other resources they may encounter later in life."

Drinking responsibly around your kids can also help build a strong bond between parent and child, especially during the often-tumultuous teenage years.

"Taking part in social activities together, like going out for dinner or joining friends for a nightcap, gives families valuable quality time away from screens and technology.

"This allows for true connection and can help kids get to know their parents beyond what they see at home. It also provides children's friends with an opportunity to see different sides of parenting beyond just being 'strict' or 'lenient.'

However, as Santini points out, it's important to keep in mind that parental responsibilities should always come first.

"Parents should monitor what kind and quantity of beverages are being consumed and ensure safety measures remain intact. For example, making sure everyone gets home safely after an evening out is crucial," she adds.

There are actually some positive and negative aspects of drinking when you kids are there. (Getty Images)
There are actually some positive and negative aspects of drinking when you kids are there. (Getty Images)

How to drink alcohol when around children

While most mums and dads wouldn't want to put their children at risk for the sake of an afternoon sipping Soave, it is possible to find some sort of middle ground when it comes to partying as a parent.

1. Consider not drinking at all

Yep. This is an option! "There are loads of alcohol free beverages out there and a brilliant sober movement," explains Seed. "If we get to the point where we rely on drinking to have a good time, then perhaps something needs to change? Plus, hate to tell you this but no drinking is the safest option."

2. Plan your exit

Set a boundary around when you’re going to leave, before the party shifts away from the needs of the kids and onto the adults.

"Check in with your kiddos," Seed adds. "If they’re not enjoying it, it’s probably time to go. Get home safely with a designated driver or planned exit. Make sure there’s someone who isn’t drinking around to get everyone home or safely into bed."

3. If you’re going to have a drink, drink safely

Seed suggests drinking water of soft drinks between the alcoholic ones and trying to drink lower alcohol beverages. "Take your own drinks and stick to it, so you know what you’ve had," she adds. "Do I need to remind you not to drink on an empty stomach? That never ends well!"

4. Know your surroundings and make sure your children do too

They’re easy to forget when you’re having a good time (I’m not preaching here. I’ve lost both mine, sober, at a kids festival on two different occasions!)

Drinking, as we know, leads to people losing inhibitions, so Seed recommends keeping an eye on the children, making sure they’re familiar with their surrounding and you know where they are at all times.

"They need to know where you are too," she adds. "I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to family events, where there’s drinking, and led children back to their parents (who didn’t know where they were because they were drinking)."

5. Remember your children are watching.

So set a good example by drinking responsibly and keeping an eye on others who may overindulge. "Encourage moderation to keep things fun but safe for all guests," Santini adds.

6. Know your limits

What is responsible drinking? The current guidelines state that adults should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week (and no, not all in one day, because that’s binge drinking).

This is equivalent to:

· Six pints of average-strength beer (4%)

· Six glasses (175ml) of average-strength wine (12%)

· 14 single measures of spirits (40%)

It is also recommended that individuals should have at least two alcohol-free days per week and no more than 2-3 drinks in a single session.

Help and support for alcohol use

If you need help with your own alcohol or drug use, there are many options of support. For free, you can search for your local drug and alcohol team here.

If you are concerned about a child who is affected by parental drinking/drug use, you can anonymously report this to the NSPCC here.

In any emergency, don’t hesitate to call 999.