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Talking To Young Children About Drugs

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 21, 2019

While it may be difficult to talk to young children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, it is a very important conversation to have. Learn some tips below to help make the conversation a success.

It is that time of year again; parents everywhere are celebrating the return of children to school. While this may mean that parents and children get a much-needed break from one another, it also means a couple of other things.

  1. Children will be exposed to many more things outside a parent’s control, which can include drugs being given, sold, or used in front of or with your child.
  2. Most schools begin drug education in elementary school, so children will become more aware of it, even if they do not see in real life or on TV.

As parents, we need to be prepared to have a helpful and honest conversation with our children about drugs. It is nerve wracking as you never want anything bad to happen to your child; I never wanted to have this conversation with my 9-year- old, but it had to happen.

The following are suggestions for how to broach the subject of drug use with your child. While they are geared more toward children 12 and under, the precepts here will translate to older children as well.

Don’t Do It

In the interest of being open and honest about this talk, it is important to inform parents that one of the largest predictors of childhood/adolescent substance use and abuse is parents’ substance use (NIDA, 2016). In other word, if they see you doing it, they are more likely to do it. Overall children learn from seeing and following behavior, not just what they are told to do.

It’s OK if you are struggling yourself, which can be a good way to talk with your child about the need to get help, but it will likely not go over well if you talk about “just saying no” when you are still actively using.

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There may be some discussion to be had about lying to your children. We have all done it—Santa Claus, anyone? But lying about drugs may be a different matter. There is the potential risk that children can learn that you lied and not understand why you did it, which causes obvious problems.

In general, it is understandable that being honest is the best choice of action, although that does not mean you need to tell your children everything, especially when very young. Just talking about the negative impacts of drugs on health and family will suffice.

Know Your Audience

Any good public speaker, teacher, comedian, etc., knows it is important to be aware your audience, so you can connect with them better, use their language, know what is off limits or what must be addressed. This is true here as well. You have to use what you know about your child to help you speak appropriately. Talk to them in a way that they understand and to which they can relate. For example, a 5-year-old may not need to know that drugs affect neurochemistry, just that they can hurt you if you take them.

Likewise, just saying, “drugs are bad” to a 16-year-old will likely come off as condescending and you may not be taken seriously. Give your child the level of information appropriate to their age and maturity, in a way they can digest and absorb the knowledge. Kidshealth.org also presents some helpful tips on talking to children based on their age that may be helpful here.

Starting Up

In general, listening more and talking less is a good strategy in starting any conversation. This holds firm here as well. A good way to start this conversation is asking what your child knows about drug use, or if this is conversation is already happening in school. A great way to build on it is to start asking what they learned today, or simply asking them what questions they have about drugs.

The idea is starting the conversation that invites them to talk more, be open, and be a part of the dialog, rather than feeling that they’re being lectured.

Remember

It is completely possible that you can do and say everything right, be an amazing role model, never touch drugs or alcohol, and your children can still end up using some substance. This not to sound hopeless; it is just to remind you that there is so much in life outside of your control. There are no guaranteed outcomes for anything, so remember this as time goes on.

You Are The Best Preventative Factor

But on the positive side, parents are continuing to be one of the strongest factors in a youth’s decision to stay away from drugs (NIDA, 2016). Parents who provide a positive role model to follow, parents who have open and honest dialogue with children, and parents who provide unconditional love and positive regard automatically lower the risk of children using drugs and thus, the risk of addiction (NIDA, 2016). So you are among of the best resources your child has to help them stay off of any substances. It is scary, but all the research backs this up. You can make a difference in your child’s future and this can all start with just having the talk about drugs and alcohol.

I know I have charged you with a very difficult task: talking to your child about drugs. For me, it was one of the most awkward conversations, but my child put up with me and listened patiently while I stammered and stuttered, eventually getting to the point of what I was trying to say. Trying is the key word in this thought. If you try, that says a lot by itself, and your children will understand that. They are very resilient, after all.

Help Yourself Help Your Kids

Likely, this will be just the start of the conversations about drugs, but remember, having talks about use and abuse is a very good thing; it shows you care and will talk with them about difficult subjects. This will go a long way towards helping your children as they grow and make healthy choices throughout their lives.

If you are in need of help as you approach the subject of drug and alcohol use with your children, we can guide you toward a successful discourse. RehabCenter.net provides a wealth of information for those in need of information on addiction, substance use disorders, mental health issues, and seeking treatment toward recovery. Contact us today and begin a healthy discussion with your child.

KidsHealth.org - Talking to Your Child About Drugs

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know

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