How and When Do I Start Talking to My Children About Drugs?

Are you wondering about how and when to start talking to your kids about drugs? The experts all offer the same advice: start talking toyour kids before someone else does.I always found it hard to believe that we should be starting these conversatiosn with 8 and 9 year olds, since we live in a safe neighbourhood in Calgary. I also hadn’t seenany signs of drug use in our elementary school and mykids hadn’t started asking about them on their own.

Despite my reluctance to start the conversation with my 7 and 9 year kids, my husband and I readan article written by the experts on the importance of talking to yourkids about drugs at a young age. After convincing me that it was a good idea, weenrolled our son in a “Say No To Drugs” Course through Child Safe Canada. I felt a little silly sending my 9 year old, but it certainly opened up a whole new level of dialogue in our house that wouldn’t have started if I had waited until he brought it up himself. With the recent death of a 15 year old Calgary teen from an ectasy overdose, it has reminded me that it is easy to let these conversations fade away and it is time to have further discussion with my kids.

According to the Calgary Police Service, parents should follow the following tips when talking to their children about drugs and alcohol.

Listen Carefully

If you take the time to listen carefully, student surveys show that your children will be more comfortable talking withyou and have a better chance of remaining drug free.

Role Play How to Say No

Talk about potentials situations where your kids might be offered drugs and alcohol. Instead of just talking about it, actually take the time to role play different scenarios on how they can say no. A scripted response, such as “No thanks,I don’t drink beer and I need to stay in shape for hockey” can go a long way in helping your kids assert themselves in future situations.

Encourage Choice

Give your child a chance to make responsible choices and decisions. Kids need to have opportunties to develop their decision making skills so that they can become good decision makers when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Sheltering your kids will not help develop decision making skills.

Provide Age Appropriate Information

Do not overwhelm children with too much information. Start talking to a 6 or 7 year old about health and taking care of their bodies. Explain to your kids that we do things like brushing our teeth and eating healthy food to look after ourselves.Point out to these youngkids that peoplealso do things that are unhealthy to their bodies,such as taking too much medicinewhen they aren’t sick.

At 9 or 10, you can expand on information that shows up on TV or in the world around you. If alcohol is mentioned on a TV show, you can have a conversation about the negative impact drinking has on your body. Older kids can be givenmore detailon specific drugsor information from some of the events you have witnessed in your own life.

Establish a clear family position on drugs

State your family philosophy on drugs and alcohol from the beginning. Tell your children that drugs and alcohol can hurt them and will not be tolerated. Make sure that you mention that you have these rules, because you love them and you want them to be healthy.

Be a good example

Remember that children are more likely to follow what you do than what you say. You set the tone for kids and it might be a good idea to hold off on having that beer the minute you come home from work. Explaining your habits and showing your kids a healthy example of moderation are important steps to take.

Discuss what makes a good friend

Minimize the impacts of peer pressure by talking to your kids about what makes a good friend. In early years, you can start by pointing out that good friends are kind, have things in common andshare their toys. In later years, you can expand bydiscussing respect and looking out for each other. Explaining to teens that a good frienddoes not pressure their friends into tryingdrugs and alcoholwill eventually beocme an extension of the conversations you have been having with them all along.

Build self-esteem

Having high self esteem will definitely decrease the risks of a teen turning to drugs and alcohol. As parents, we can help build self esteem by remembering to offer lots of praise, spending quality time with our kids, focusing feedback on their actions and never forgetting to say I love you.

Repeat the message

After talking to your kids once or twice it is easy to forget to keep these conversations going. Lessons about drugs and alcohol are important and should be had on a more frequent basis. Keep the discussion going and take advantage of opportunities to discuss drugs and alcohol as they come up.

The above steps will go a long way in opening up the lines of communication with your kids. Be prepared though. I was amazed at thelevelof questioning from my 9 year old after attending the Say No To Drugs Course. In fact, the subject of those questions would make a goodblog topic: How to respond to your kids if they ask youdirectly if you have ever tried drugs before? Wow, where is the course for the parents??

**Child Safe Canada offers a Say No To Drug Course for Teens and Pre Teens at several locations in Calgary.

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