Several surveys reveal that kids who feel comfortable talking to their parents about their feelings and concerns are more likely to stay free from drugs and excessive alcohol use.
Here are some tips for talking about drugs and alcohol with your kids:
1. Provide information appropriate to their age. Simple information repeated on relevant occasions should get the message across about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. For example, if your seven year old is eating some fruit, you may talk with them about how the fruit is good for and healthy for their body.
Talk about other things that are good and healthy too. Then move into talking about things that some people do that are not good for their body like smoking or talking medicine that is not needed.
When drug terms are exposed in the media or in conversations, for example cocaine, marijuana and speed, ask your child if they know what it is or what it means. Tell them they are addictive drugs that harm our bodies severely. If they ask for more information give it to them.
The older your children get, the more information they may seek. Ensure you are up to date with drug street names and how they affect our body so you can give them the right information. We don't always know all the answers but the more facts we can tell them early on, without scaring them, the more wary they will be.
2. Indicate your family values. Tell your kids how you feel about drug use and alcohol consumption and what is acceptable in your family. For example "In our family we do not agree with taking any drugs unless mum, dad or the doctor says so. It is dangerous to give it to yourself so our rule is very serious. Some people have made mistakes in taking too many drugs and they have become very sick and some have died" or "In our family we do not drink alcohol until we are an adult. It is very bad for your body and strength when you are young". Answer any questions that arise.
3. Reinforce messages. Whenever an appropriate time arises or you initiate a conversation about drugs, repeat the dangers and consequences of drugs. Be informative about the facts and answer questions.
4. Model your beliefs. Show your kids that you practise what you preach. Avoid drinking excessively if you want them to be responsible drinkers. Try not to drink each and every night of the week if you don't want them to do the same and always offer guests non-alcoholic drinks along with alcohol to show that what you drink is optional. Also, if you take a lot of vitamins or tablets yourself, do it discreetly.
5. Trust your kids. Give your kids the opportunity to do the right thing. If they choose to break your rules, then punish appropriately. Praise them when they are trustworthy and responsible and tell them you know you can trust them. In my experience, if you tell kids "no" all of the time or not let them go out at all, they will almost break their necks to do it sooner or later.
Educate and explain to your kids your values, standards and rules and then trust them to make the right decisions.
6. Give your kids responsibility. Learning from a young age that choices come with responsibility will help your child feel more secure in decision making in their teens. Learning the consequences of bad choices at an early age help them make better ones in the future. The responsibilities may be simple.
As an example, for an eight year old, let them decide which musical instrument to learn, which job they want to do around the house one week, how many people to ask to their party etc. This will help your child be confident to make decisions for themself.
7. Foster self-esteem. As mentioned earlier, mostly kids with low self esteem turn to excessive alcohol and substance abuse to feel better. Foster self esteem at home by giving your kids quality time each day where you can solely focus on them, to talk, to play a game, go for a walk, offer praise and encouragement, set achievable tasks and tell them how much you love them.
8. Talk about peer pressure. Kids need to know that "good friends" are there to care for them and listen to them. People who try to pressure them into smoking, drinking or using drugs are not friends. Encourage your kids to engage in healthy activities like sport that help them feel fit, energetic and good about themselves.
9. Discuss how to say "no". Providing scenarios for your kids actually gets them to think on their feet and helps them to say "no" in a pressured situation. Give your child scenarios such as "Just say you are at Eleanor's house and she finds some of her mum's cigarettes. She asks you to share one with her. What would you say?"
Praise your child if she comes up with a good response, otherwise offer some alternatives like "No thanks, I don't like smoking. I need to keep my lungs in top shape for netball on Saturday".
10. Explain. It is a good idea to explain to your kids why some people take drugs, smoke and drink excessively. While there are many different reasons explain that sometimes people have a big problem with no-one to talk to so they turn to these substances. Some people try them and get addicted. Ask them why they think people use these substances, find out what they know and how they feel about it too.
11. Help them discriminate. Remind your kids that while it is extremely dangerous to take substances excessively, not everything is lethal. For example, some drugs help us to get better when we are sick, but only ones given by a doctor, mum or dad. It is never ok to take medicines out of the cupboard yourself.
Depending on your beliefs, you may like to explain that adults sometimes enjoy a glass of alcohol every now and then. It is when too much is consumed too often that it becomes dangerous.
You may wonder when is the best time to start telling your kids about drug and alcohol consumption. Kids are learning and being exposed to drugs and alcohol from younger and younger ages. Gradually increase your kid's information as they get more curious and ask more questions. Start to encourage them to take care of themselves and take pride in their healthy bodies from as early as possible.