Four Ways to Talk to Your Child about Addiction
Parenting isn’t easy, especially when it comes to talking to kids about addiction to alcohol and drugs. Many parents hope to sidestep the subject altogether. Facing it head on is better. Research published by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. shows that kids who have conversations with their parents about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50 percent less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who do not. Another study highlighted by the Drug and Alcohol Review spotlighted more positive outcomes. Specifically, data revealed that a close parent-child bond discouraged drug use both directly and through the indirect impact of choosing non-using friends.
The benefits of developing communication skills necessary to open the dialogue do not stop there. The process gives you greater insight into your child. Done well, your efforts will fortify them with resilience by teaching them to cope with anger, peer pressure, loneliness and disappointment in healthy ways. This gives them weapons against which to fend off drugs and alcohol, but it also arms them with the tools they need to build a healthy lifestyle. For practical tips to get you started, read on.
#1 Seize the (Teachable) Moments
Take advantage of “teachable moments” when alcohol or drug issues come up naturally. There is no need to schedule a dramatic, sit-down talk about drugs. If you are there for your kids when the topic comes up – on TV, at the movies, on the radio, on news events about celebrities or sports figures, or about their friends in conversation – you will be primed for a frank conversation. As a parent, you can be a primary source of positive and reliable information. Don’t miss your opportunity to be the voice that shapes their outlook.
#2 Do It Now
Age matters. The sooner you begin talking about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse the better. Most parents have more influence over their kids’ attitudes and decisions about alcohol and drugs than they realize. It is never too early to begin the conversation because the more informed children are – and the more these issues can be discussed frankly – the better off they will be.
If you feel at a loss for words, or doubt that you have the right information, reach out. Numerous resources – many right in your own community – exist to help you obtain the information you need. Your local library is a good place to start researching and connect with your local community service organizations, suggest experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
#3 Model Good Communication
Naturally, parents often want to have all the answers. Sometimes we are so anxious to share our wisdom or our opinion that we fail to take the time to listen. For our kids, knowing that adults are really listening is the most important thing we can do to help. Guidelines to help you tune in include the following:
- Talk to your child regularly about their feelings, their friends, their activities
- Ask open-ended questions and avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer
- Be involved in your child’s everyday world so you get to know your child’s friends
- Make it clear that you do not want your child drinking alcohol or using drugs and that you trust them not to
- Discuss the possible consequences of drug and alcohol use, both legal and medical, and be clear about what you will do if the rules are broken
- Care about what your child is going through as he or she faces decisions that will affect their lives now and for the future
Above all, stay positive. Many parents discover that talking about alcohol and drugs with their children builds bridges.
#4 Bring Out the Skeletons
Science clearly documents that addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a chronic, progressive disease linked to family history and genetics, maintain National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers. If you have a family history of problems with alcohol or drugs, be pragmatic about it — just as you would any other chronic disease. If you have had your own struggles, get honest. Children learn valuable lessons when adults admit to making mistakes and correcting them. Nobody’s perfect. When a parent takes ownership of failures, kids learn to do the same.
Do not let past mistakes make you feel disqualified or like an imposter parent. Stay focused on the here and now. What matters most is your child’s future — not your past.
Help for Addiction
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