My firstborn would reach for my morning iced cappuccino constantly. By the time he was 15 months old he had his own wooden toy “Nespresso '' and “made” me my morning brew—but it didn’t curb him incessantly asking for a sip of the real thing. When he hit toddlerhood and that asking turned into tantrums, I gave in and let him have a sip thinking he’d be disgusted and would stop asking. That didn’t happen. He wanted “mo, mo, mo.” Needless to say I stopped drinking coffee in front of him from that day on.
- Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and prenatal and postnatal health expert
You don’t need to have a mom’s instinct to come to the conclusion that a toddler probably shouldn’t be having coffee, or any caffeine for that matter. But when can kids drink coffee?
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has specifically said that children should avoid caffeine until they reach the age of 12,” says Lauren Manaker RDN, founder of Nutrition Now. “And from the ages of 12 to 18, they should only have 100 mg of caffeine per day max.”
And there are many good reasons for this.
Why is coffee too early a major problem?
Basically think of all the reasons adults may want to cut coffee out and supercharge those. “All of the effects adults may feel when consuming caffeine can happen to children, including anxiety and high blood pressure," says Manaker. "Since children are smaller than adults, it takes far less of this stimulant to affect the little ones."
In particular, coffee can have a negative impact on sleep for kids. “Caffeine can make it difficult for a child to sleep and since sleep is so incredibly important for this age group, including anything that may make getting enough sleep a challenge is not recommended,” says Manaker. “We don't, however, know the exact effects that caffeine can have on a child, but since they are growing and developing rapidly, experts question if this stimulant may have negative effects on their brain health.”
Are there positives to kids drinking coffee?
It’s not commonplace for Americans to give their toddlers sips of coffee—though a 2015 study of 315 Boston moms found that 14 percent allowed their two-year olds to drink between one and four ounces of coffee a day—across the globe there are coffee cultures that support this behavior openly and prevalently. You know how the French are all laissez-faire with wine for youngins? Well, in Latin America it’s basically the same with coffee. There it’s common for kids to have hot coffee with milk starting at an early age. Brazil in particular tends to not consider coffee exclusively an “adult beverage.”
Breaking cultural norms is not an easy feat, but before any of us get on our high horse, we should remember that it’s common for pre-teens—or younger—to drink soda and sports drinks in this country. These beverages, and even hot chocolate and iced tea, have caffeine too!
But that doesn’t mean caffeine is okay
While Manaker notes that some data suggests that children may feel more alert when having coffee, she cautions that they may also become dependent on this stimulant, which is not a good thing.
“Instead of having caffeinated drinks, children can lean on hydrating drinks to help them stay energized while avoiding this stimulant,” says Manaker. “It is entirely possible for people to feel sluggish because of dehydration, not because of a lack of caffeine. For older children above the age of 12, making sure they are opting for choices that have at most 100 mg of caffeine is recommended. One shot of Starbucks espresso has 75 mg of caffeine, so one Starbucks coffee ‘drink’ with only one shot is sufficient for a day's worth of caffeine for a child 12 years old or older.”
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