Alcohol-related expectancies and alcohol use were examined in 185 children of alcoholics (COAs) and controls, aged 7 to 18 years. Concerning the expectancies of young COAs, two contrasting hypotheses have been proposed: COAs should hold more negative expectancies than controls due to aversive learning, or hold more positive expectancies due to either social learning or a more favorable response to alcohol. We propose that COAs of elementary school age hold more negative expectancies due to aversive learning, whereas older COAs hold more positive expectancies due to a more favorable response to alcohol. The critical variable with respect to the change from more negative to more positive expectancies is proposed to be the child's own initiation of alcohol use. The results of the present cross-sectional study provide suggestive evidence in favor of this hypothesis. First, elementary school-aged COAs had stronger negative expectancies than controls. Second, the hypothesized interaction between family history and own experience with alcohol was confirmed in the adolescent subsample. The proposed model should be critically tested with longitudinal data. If confirmed, the model may be of importance for prevention of alcohol-related problems in high-risk populations.