As a parent, your job encompasses a lot of conversations around tough topics. From divorce to death to 'the talk,' these can be distressing to both you and your child. One of the most important conversations you will have surrounds the difficult topic of drug and alcohol abuse.
Whether you think your child is already abusing substances, or you want to keep them aware of the dangers, there are a few dos and don'ts to consider. You want to have this talk early and not when it is time to send them to rehab. Instilling respect early on through these tips will help avoid consequences later. We have compiled some of those here to make this tough talk a little easier.
Yes, we live in a digital age where kids can easily access information or get exposure through media. Don't assume your child is already aware of the dangers of alcohol or drug use. Many kids fail to understand addiction or substance abuse doesn't have to occur repeatedly. One exposure is enough to present a significant risk.
DO BEGIN THE EARLY CONVERSATION
Many parents put off this conversation until teenage adolescence, but in truth, it is never too early to begin warning them. Younger children are more receptive to guidance and advice. You can start by discussing the over-the-counter medications you take, like cold medicine. Address the risks and guidelines on how to use them. This approach instills respect for medication use from an early age.
DON'T BE VAGUE
You may strive to avoid alarming your child by keeping things vague or forgetting they don't have a baseline knowledge yet. Avoid being vague by giving clear instructions on the consequences of substance use or abuse. Explain this applies in all situations – whether or not you are present. They might not fully understand, but clear expectations will help them later on.
DO ADDRESS IT IMMEDIATELY
If you suspect or catch your child using drugs or alcohol, do not wait to address it. Early experimentation can easily lead to subsequent addiction. Ask your child to take a faint line drug test so that you can verify your suspicions. If they test positive for any substances, talk to them calmly and rationally. A rational approach can help guide them to a smarter decision the next time they feel tempted.
DON'T FORGET TO LISTEN
Even if they have broken the rules and a justified punishment has followed, take the time to listen. Understand who or what led them to try substances in the first place. It might have been peer pressure, personal feelings, or issues adapting to another force in their life. Everyone goes through tough times, and maybe, this experimentation was how they sought to deal with it. By listening, you can get to the root of the motivation and help overcome the real challenge.
DO TALK ABOUT PEERS
We all remember how persuasive our peers can be. This point is especially real as children when there is a pressure to do something because everyone else is. Be honest with your child about your experiences with peer pressure and how overwhelming that can be. Help them recognize confidence can grow when they block out the peer pressure and become a leader. Saying no is not easy, but they have to learn to stand up for themselves.
DON'T LIMIT THE CONVERSATION
Unlike 'the talk,' you will probably have to explore drugs and alcohol dangers more than once. The pressure to experiment may increase with age, so the conversation must evolve. It shouldn't be a continuous lecture but rather organic conversations. For example, if you see abuse happening in some form of media entertainment, unpack it, and talk through it. Explore how it impacted the character and those around them.
DO KEEP AN OPEN MIND
As a parent, you want what is best for your child. But at times, your child might not see it that way. Keep an open mind in these conversations as you explore the motivations behind drug and alcohol abuse. By encouraging questions and creating an environment where they can come to you, you can help lay a foundation for them to make the right choice for themselves.