Sometimes it seems like parenting brings on a new challenge every day. With working out your schedule and making sure that your kids have everything that they need, it can be tough to find time to talk about drugs and alcohol. On top of that, having a talk like this isn’t the easiest thing to do. You might be worried about what to say and how to say it. You might not be sure that your kids will be receptive. These are all reasonable concerns that every parent has, but they are not sufficient reasons to put off talking to your kids.
One problem is that parents tend to think that “having the talk” means a one-time conversation. The truth is, having one conversation about something that kids will be confronted with multiple times in their lives is just not enough. So to begin we want to break away from that old school of thought. Communication with your kids is an ongoing process and not a single event. Once you get the conversation started, you will want to go back to it many times over the years. While some situations call for a formal sit-down discussion, we want to stress that talking about drugs and alcohol can be done regularly and in a far less involved manner than you might think.
Here are some general tips
- Start when the kids are young- While we don’t want to tell you to have a full-on talk with your kids at about drugs at age four, you can find a happy medium. Start as young as 6 or 7 years old. Don’t begin with hard drugs necessarily–try medicine. When your child is sick, explain that they are taking a drug and that a drug is something that changes their body when they take it. Stress that they are only taking a drug because they are sick, and once they feel better they won’t be taking it anymore. This will lay some groundwork for future conversations.
- Be honest- Yes, you will need to tell your kids about the dangers of drugs, but do not embellish. Tell them how drugs can ruin people’s lives. Use real examples of people losing their jobs and drug addicts living on the street (age appropriate of course), but do not tell them that all drug users end up that way. Your kids know you. They can sense when you are not being honest, and this may cause them to block you out. Tell them that drugs are in all parts of society and use that as a building block for stressing how important good decision making is.
- Be ready to answer questions- Kids might act like they know everything, especially teenagers, but we all know that they don’t. In an open and honest conversation your kids might have some questions and you should be prepared to answer them. They might want to know:
- What your experiences with drugs and alcohol were
- Some real life examples of problems with drugs and alcohol
- What your expectations are for them when they are confronted with substances
- What your opinion of drugs and alcohol is for yourself (remember telling kids that drinking is bad and then drinking alcohol in front of them frequently is a blatant mixed message)
- What consequences for them will be if they use drugs or alcohol
- Have regular talks- Come back to the point of being careful with drugs and alcohol frequently. If you are watching television together and the subject comes up, take a moment to reiterate your expectations for your child. If you are out at restaurant and a drunk person makes a scene, use their behavior as an example. Remember you want to be straightforward but not overly pushy in order to get the best response from your child.
- Emphasize healthy activities and good choices- Help your child to make the right decisions by pointing out what is good in addition to talking about what is bad. Praise and even reward them for achieving in academics and even sports. Cook a healthy meal and remind them how important it is to think about what you put into your body. Take any available opportunity to discuss good decision making, so they will have a reference when you talk about bad decisions with drugs and alcohol.