Your toddler drank some alcohol: What now?

My husband and I are alcoholics of the European fashion. This doesn't really mean we're alcoholics at all, it just means, generally, everyday there is some sort of alcohol consumed in our home, whether that may be just a beer, glass of wine, or vodka-infused hot cocoa in my case. According to some American standards that makes us alcoholics, but I digress. We also have two toddlers -- two very curious, grabby toddlers with impressive ingenuity. Much like everything in our home they are not supposed to have, my children insist on attempting to pilfer alcoholic beverages, usually my husband's beer or scotch and water. I am ashamed to admit they have on one or two occasions succeeded in stealing a sip. However, if you type something along the lines of, "toddler drank beer" or some variation there of containing different wording or alcohol into a search engine online, you'll find I am not the only parent that has found themselves with a booze-swiping toddler. OK, so we've established it happens; what do you do if it happens to you?

First consideration, what was consumed and how much?

As you likely know all alcohol that is marketed for sale -- this naturally excludes moon shine or home brew -- has an alcohol percentage. Your average beer for example is somewhere around 4-5%, where as your average vodka is more like 30-35%. Note that if there is no percentage on the packaging, this means the alcohol content is below 5%. If your toddler managed to get a small amount of any alcohol, while it's not going to win you a parenting award, it's harmless. Now, if the quantity was a little more than a sip, or it was something like Everclear with a very high alcohol content, you could have a problem.

Watch for signs of intoxication or seek medical attention

In a small child, signs of intoxication will show fairly quickly. While luckily my children have never managed to drink enough to get that far, signs would be similar as those seen in adults, things such as impaired balance, flushed appearance, and confusion. In the event symptoms are mild, offer plenty of water and food and don't let it happen again. You may call poison control at: 1-800-222-1222, if in doubt. If more serious signs of intoxication are present, which could indicate alcohol poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. These may include altered pulse or breathing, vomiting, dramatic drop in body temperature, unconsciousness, unresponsiveness, or seizure.

What are the risks of alcohol exposure in toddlers?

While an it-happened-once, or even twice slip-up isn't likely to cause harm unless your child chugged a bottle, continued exposure to alcohol at a young age can have a long list of very nasty health effects including reduced brain growth or damage leading to developmental delays and reduced intelligence, memory loss, liver and digestive tract damage, as well as damage to the lining of the stomach, and vitamin or nutrient deficiencies which may lead to other health issues and impaired growth.

How can you prevent your toddler from getting a hold of booze again?

When drinking, try to use containers that can be closed, and are difficult for your toddler to open. Keep the mass of your alcohol up high and locked up -- yes, this means you should get a glass rather than sipping from the bottle. Keep your capped cup up high, for example a high shelf is a better choice than a coffee table. Never leave partially finished drinks lying about, even if when they were placed there when your toddler was at a sitter. As a rule do a quick walk through after a night of drinking to check for abandoned drinks. Teach your toddler that mommy/daddy drinks are dangerous; much like you would the stove being hot. Avoid trying to explain that alcohol is not for children, and stick to the drinks simply being a dangerous no-no. Using the same container for all of your drinks can help in this department, as your child will simply know, *that* cup is a no-no. You can explain how alcohol is for adults, and how to drink in a healthy way when your child is older. This information is wasted on, and may confuse, a child at the toddler age.

If you've just joined the ranks of parents who freaked out just a bit when they realized their child snagged a bit of booze, understand that it does happen, it's not the end of the world, and it doesn't make you a bad parent, just try not to let it happen again.

Has your toddler ever stolen a sip of your alcoholic drink?

You may also enjoy:

Why I'll Let My Teens Drink

Teaching Toddlers the Difference Between Pills and Candy

How to Child Proof Your Home