Talking to children about drugs and alcohol addiction

How to Talk to Your Child About Drugs and Alcohol

Research shows that children who learn the facts about drugs and alcohol from their parents are significantly less likely to use them.

No child is immune from exposure to drugs and alcohol.  Teen drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent in every community across Canada, and addiction has become a national crisis.

Children who aren’t properly educated about the dangers of drugs and alcohol are more likely to experiment and have a greater risk of addiction.

Start the conversation early. Give your child the facts about drugs and alcohol, and set clear and consistent rules about smoking, drinking, and taking drugs.

Encourage your child to share their feelings and ask questions.  Strive to keep the lines of communication open as your child matures, and always provide thoughtful guidance and non-judgmental support.

Don’t let your child be educated by a friend or worse the media.  Here’s how to begin.

Preschoolers (Ages 3 to 5)

Teaching your child problem-solving skills, independent thought, and the value of healthy life choices at an early age, will help them resist future drug experimentation.

At no other time in our child’s life are your words more impactful or is your approval as highly prized than during their early years of emotional and physical dependency.  Use this time to build your child’s self-esteem, resilience and personal resolve.  Creating a strong foundation for your child will best prepare them for life’s challenges ahead.

  • Talk to your child about the importance of healthy living.  Teach them the benefits of eating nutritious foods, getting enough rest, and proper hygiene.  Show them that by making these healthy choices they will feel happier, stronger, less sleepy, and be able to run, jump, and play longer.
  • Give your child the freedom to make some of their own decisions.  Provide them with the opportunity to use their voice, to make choices, and to have ownership of the decisions they make.  Choosing what clothes they’d like to wear; what they’d like to eat for lunch; or what books they’d like to get from the library, are all small ways your child can learn good decision-making skills and confidence in themselves.
  • Encourage your child to be responsible.  Assign simple chores and responsibilities to your child like cleaning up their toys, feeding the dog, putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and bringing their dinner plate to the sink after a meal.  Giving your child even the smallest measure of responsibility now will lay the groundwork for future good habits.  Plus, having a chore to do, and giving them honest praise for their work and contribution, makes children feel valued and important.
  • Teach to your child about when and why we take medicine.  The next time your child has a cold or fever use this opportunity to discuss why medication is given and how to use medicine safely.  Let them know that it is only ok to take medicine and vitamins when given by you or other family member.
  • Be aware of your own prescription drug and alcohol use.  Children learn behaviour by watching and emulating others. Parents that indulge in alcohol use, or freely use and provide medications to their children, can send confusing messages about these substances and their safety.

School Age (Ages 5 to 8)

As children enter school and spend more time with their peers, they become more influenced by the media and world around them.  During this period children begin to test boundaries and exert independence.

They’re open to new ideas, but still rely heavily on you for guidance and behaviour signals.  Being present and thoughtful with your counsel during this time is vital to preventing negative influence on your child’s thoughts and feelings.

  • Tell your child how you feel about cigarette, alcohol and drug use.  Keep the tone of these conversations calm and share only factual information. Explain the risks of usage in terms your child will understand, like: how cigarettes, drugs and alcohol make a person look, feel and smell; and the impact they can have on families, and the things they love to do, like hobbies and sports.
  • Get to know your child’s friends and their parents.  Listen in on your child’s conversations with their friends and watch their behaviour when they play together. Talk with their friend’s parents and learn what values they’re teaching their children.  Is the guidance they’re providing their kids consistent with yours?
  • Encourage your child’s interest in hobbies, sports, and community events.Creating opportunities for you child to take part in individual and team activities will keep them active and engaged in positive behaviour. Social activities are also a great way for your child to make new friendships and they help build self-confidence.
  • Make family dinner conversation and bedtime talks part of your child’s regular day.Parents that maintain a consistent and open dialogue with their children are not only more aware of what is going on in their children’s lives, their children are more willing to confide in them when they have a problem.  Studies have shown that children who have dinner with their family regularly are less likely to use drugs or drink alcohol.
  • Talk to your child about alcohol and drug-related messages in the media.Protecting your child against the images of smoking, excessive drinking, and drug use in movies, on television, in music and advertising is impossible. So, take advantage of these teachable moments and help your child separate reality from fantasy.  Teach them the difference between what see and hear in the media and what is true in real life. Monitor their exposure to media carefully and encourage them to ask questions when they see or hear things they don’t understand.

Preteens (Ages 8 to 12)

As your child grows older they will begin to question your authority and challenge your opinions.  However, as a preteen they’ve never needed your input and advice more to make the right choices.

It’s time to get serious with your child about the risks involved with drug and alcohol use.

  • Ask your child what they think about smoking, drugs and alcohol.  Show them you’re willing to discuss their feelings without judgment and answer any questions they may have.  Remember your child is watching to see if you’re listening and really paying attention to their thoughts and opinions.  A positive dialogue with your child now can encourage them to come to you for guidance in the future.
  • Set clear family rules about drug and alcohol usage.  Tell your child why you don’t want them to smoke, drink or take drugs.  Give them the facts and take advantage of their passion for learning to reinforce your message.  Avoid talking about the future consequences of drug and alcohol use, keep concerns relevant to your child at this time in their life.  Focusing on how smoking, drinking and drug use will affect their appearance; influence their performance in a play or hockey game; and impact their ability to get a driving license, willing carry greater weight than telling them they won’t be able to manage a successful career or have a loving relationship in the future.
  • Teach your child how to “Just Say No!”  Role-playing can help your child learn what to say when offered cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.  Act out real-life scenarios with your child and help them brainstorm responses to peer pressure.  Let them know that being friends with kids that smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs is not ok.
  • Help your child develop problem-solving skills.  If your child is having trouble with their homework, a friend, or a bully at school, help them to identify the problem and discuss possible long-term solutions.  Provide guidance in their decision-making but let them determine the final answer.
  • Help build your child’s self-esteem.  A positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.  When children feel good about themselves it sets them up for success.  Puberty, can erode these feelings of self-confidence causing children to feel insecure, be self-critical, and vulnerable to peer pressure.  To help combat this, give your child lots of positive reinforcement and praise for their efforts and achievements.
  • Encourage your child to be a leader and to make their own decisions.  Let them know it’s ok to be their unique individual self and that they don’t need to make the same choices as their friends.  Urge them to wear the clothes they think are cool, and to hang out with the kids that are their true friends.  Support and nurture their interests and help them develop their talents. Introduce them to new ideas and inspiring people who can teach them how to be the leaders of their own lives.

Teenagers (Ages 13 to 17)

If you haven’t already started talking to your child about the risks associated with drugs and alcohol you’re probably too late.  The prevalence of drug and alcohol use and addiction among teens is at record highs.  By the age of 13, if your child hasn’t experimented with smoking, drinking, or drugs, they have a friend who has.

Listening and communicating openly is key now to being a strong guiding force in your child’s life.

  • Be clear about your rules around drugs and alcohol, and the consequences for breaking them.Don’t be vague.  Set well-defined boundaries and expectations about drug and alcohol use, and make sure your teen is clear about the consequences for breaking the rules. Teens that better understand the consequences of their choices are more likely to make sound decisions. If your child lives in two different households, make sure the same rules and consequences for drug and alcohol use are being taught and enforced by both parents.
  • Confront problems quickly. If your child is caught drinking, smoking or doing drugs, or if you have a strong suspicion that they are using, don’t wait to act. Enforce consequences.  Teens using drugs, alcohol or who are smoking, are at a much higher risk of addiction than if they were to wait until they’re 20.  If your teen’s drug and alcohol use has become a habit, seek professional support from a licensed therapist and addiction counselor.
  • Develop a plan to give your teen a way to get out of difficult situations.Brainstorm solutions to challenging scenarios that will help your teen avoid the pressure to use drugs and alcohol. Decide on a code word they can text you if they feel unsafe and let them know you will come and get them at anytime, no questions asked. If they’re being bullied or shunned by friends and classmates for their abstinence, encourage them to make new friends and provide them with opportunities to refocus their energy.
  • Keep communication lines open. Make sure your teen knows that if they make a poor choice you’ll be there for them and you still love them. Providing guidance, listening to your children, and talking openly about the decisions they make, doesn’t end as your child matures it only increases.  Give your teen the opportunity to come to you if they make a mistake.  Be open, avoid interrogation and judgment, and try to recommend solutions that will help them make better decisions in the future.

If your teen is struggling with an addiction to cigarettes, drugs, prescription medication or alcohol, call us at The Farm Rehab for help 1-877-353-2777.  Home visits, interventions, and personalized addiction treatment.

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