Kids and drugs. Have you had the talk yet? When and how to start.

Maybe it’s because I’m an incessant watcher of the television show Intervention, but lately I’ve been obsessed making sure my kids never walk down the path of substance abuse. My children are 7 and 8, so while I feel they are a little young for the “drug talk”, I don’t think it’s too early for me to start laying the ground work and strategizing their straight-and-narrow (fingers double-crossed) future.

National studies show that the average age when a child first tries alcohol is 11; for marijuana, it’s 12. What?? How can a child who still gets excited about going to Toys R Us being trying drugs or alcohol? It’s a frightening statistic, but because you can’t be attached to their hip 24/7, it’s better to 1) start early, 2) be prepared and 3) know that this is one situation where hyper vigilance is perfectly acceptable.

This excerpt was taken from an article on the Ch1ldren Now website. It’s a great tool for those families with young kids who don’t know how or when to start the conversation.

Encourage choice

Allow your child plenty of opportunity to become a confident decision-maker. An 8-year-old is capable of deciding if she wants to invite lots of friends to her birthday party or just a close pal or two. A 12-year-old can choose whether she wants to go out for chorus or join the school band. As your child becomes more skilled at making all kinds of good choices, both you and she will feel more secure in her ability to make the right decision concerning alcohol and drugs if and when the time arrives.

Provide age-appropriate information

Make sure the information that you offer fits the child’s age and stage. When your 6 or 7-year-old is brushing his teeth, you can say, “There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn’t do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick.”

If you are watching TV with your 8 year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, “Do you know what marijuana is? It’s a bad drug that can hurt your body.” If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across.

You can offer your older child the same message, but add more drug-specific information. For example, you might explain to your 12-year-old what marijuana and crack look like, their street names and how they can affect his body.

Establish a clear family position on drugs

It’s okay to say, “We don’t allow any drug use and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol. The only time that you can take any drugs is when the doctor or Mom or Dad gives you medicine when you’re sick. We made this rule because we love you very much and we know that drugs can hurt your body and make you very sick; some may even kill you. Do you have any questions?”

Be a good example

Children will do what you do much more readily than what you say. So try not to reach for a beer the minute you come home after a tough day; it sends the message that drinking is the best way to unwind. Offer dinner guests non-alcoholic drinks in addition to wine and spirits. And take care not to pop pills, even over-the-counter remedies, indiscriminately. Your behavior needs to reflect your beliefs.

Discuss what makes a good friend

Since peer pressure is so important when it comes to kids’ involvement with drugs and alcohol, it makes good sense to talk with your children about what makes a good friend. To an 8-year-old you might say, “A good friend is someone who enjoys the same games and activities that you do and who is fun to be around.” 11 to 12-year-olds can understand that a friend is someone who shares their values and experiences, respects their decisions and listens to their feelings. Once you’ve gotten these concepts across, your children will understand that “friends” who pressure them to drink or smoke pot aren’t friends at all.

Additionally, encouraging skills like sharing and cooperation—and strong involvement in fun, healthful activities (such as team sports or scouting)—will help your children make and maintain good friendships as they mature and increase the chance that they’ll remain drug-free.

Build self-esteem

Kids who feel good about themselves are much less likely than other kids to turn to illegal substances to get high. As parents, we can do many things to enhance our children’s self-image. Here are some pointers:

  • Offer lots of praise for any job well done.
  • If you need to criticize your child, talk about the action, not the person. If your son gets a math problem wrong, it’s better to say, “I think you added wrong. Let’s try again.”
  • Assign do-able chores. A 6-year-old can bring her plate over to the sink after dinner; a 12-year-old can feed and walk the dog after school. Performing such duties and being praised for them helps your child feel good about himself.
  • Spend one-on-one time with your youngster. Setting aside at least 15 uninterrupted minutes per child per day to talk, play a game, or take a walk together, lets her know you care.
  • Say, “I love you.” Nothing will make your child feel better.
Repeat the message

Information and lessons about drugs are important enough to repeat frequently. So be sure to answer your children’s questions as often as they ask them to initiate conversation whenever the opportunity arises.

If you suspect a problem, seek help

While kids under age 12 rarely develop a substance problem, it can—and does—happen. If your child becomes withdrawn, loses weight, starts doing poorly in school, turns extremely moody, has glassy eyes—or if the drugs in your medicine cabinet seem to be disappearing too quickly—talk with your child and reach out to any one of the organizations listed here. You’ll be helping your youngster to a healthier, happier future.

Looking for some online help? Check out these websites that offer parents (and kids!) suggestions on how to keep the lines of communication open.

Ch1ldren Now
This website offers suggestions on how to talk to your kids on a myriad of topics including substance abuse, sex, violence, sickness, the media, divorce and more.

Parents. The AntiDrug.
This website offers parents tips on identifying potential problems, provides information on the latest “street drugs” and offers email newsletters covering several different teen topics.

Kids Health
In addition to providing parents with resources on healthy living and open communication, this website also offers a “kids” and “teen” area where they can learn about their body (why do we burp?), read information on staying safe outside the home, food and fitness and school.

What’s your anti-drug strategy? Help other parents and connect here about your thoughts, concerns and advice, or let us know about other great resources you’ve found. It really does a village!

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