Don’t be fooled: Kids know a lot about alcohol, drugs and addiction and at a young age. They may even be experimenting as young as middle school. If you’re a parent, you’ll need to talk to your kids about these addictive substances at some point – but when and how do you start the conversation?
This question was addressed in a recent Huffington Post article, in which prevention and mental health experts offered the following advice:
- Start early. The goal is to start the conversation long before your child is exposed to substances and this can mean talking to preschoolers and younger kids about addiction. Doing so will help reinforce to your children that you are a trustworthy resource and that they can always come to you with questions and concerns.
- Keep it age-appropriate. For example, you can start with something like medicine safety, and tell them that “just because this is our family medicine cabinet doesn’t mean all of the medicine is for you, and we are responsible for taking care of you so please come to us with questions about what’s in there,” Lindsey Prevost, the director of prevention services at the Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse for Greater New Orleans, told HuffPost.
- Don’t be in denial. Even if your kids aren’t directly exposed to drugs, they’ll likely hear about stories of addiction on social media and in the news. Don’t ignore this. Instead, do your best to have an open conversation about what your child is seeing, hearing and reading. “This sets them up to have a place to talk about addiction and substances as it becomes more present around them,” John Sovec, a therapist based in Pasadena, CA, told HuffPost.
- Make connections to everyday experiences. When explaining the concept of addiction to your child, try to draw connections to things he or she understands. Here’s the example Sovec used in the article: “For some people, they can take one cookie and eat it and be OK, but some people might take the whole plate of cookies because they can’t stop themselves. And afterward when they’ve eaten that whole plate of cookies, they don’t feel well.” In addition, it’s important to talk about addiction as a disease. Let your child know that if someone has a substance use disorder it doesn’t make him or her a bad person. It means that he or she is sick and needs doctors and support to get better.
- Don’t lie. If your child asks you if you ever did drugs, it’s best to be honest. This doesn’t mean that you need to offer explicit details, but you can say something like: “Yeah, I did try it and it wasn’t a great experience, and a lot of bad things could’ve happened to me,” Prevost said. Or, she recommended telling your child that we now know so much more about the dangers of drug and alcohol use on the developing brain.
- Go at your child’s pace. The topic of addiction can be overwhelming for some children. Pay attention to how your child is processing the information and whether it may be causing anxiety. If it is, just tell your child that you can talk about it more in the future. Your number-one goal is to start the conversation and let your child know that you’re always there – if he or she has questions, concerns or makes any mistakes along the way.
Ask About Our Programs for At-Risk Youth
Family Recovery Specialists provides programs for adolescents and young adults that are experimenting or abusing substances but may not have a more serious problem. We also treat young people that show evidence of a true addiction. Parents are required to participate in these programs and receive education and coaching on how to parent their children more effectively, discouraging further use in their children. To learn more, call today: 305-595-7378.