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How to Talk About Drugs With Your Kids

It's frightening how susceptible young children are to the world of substance abuse. From the time they enter school, children risk exposure to the temptations of substance abuse, whether the substance is alcohol, narcotics, prescription drugs, or any other mind-altering chemicals. Talking and listening to your children are two strategies that can help prevent substance abuse.

If a child wants to talk, it's best for you to listen right then. When it's not possible to drop everything and talk, schedule a specific time the two of you can chat. Be sure and choose a quiet place, and let your child talk first. It's especially important that you let the youngster give his or her opinions, even if you don't agree with them. When your turn to talk rolls around, avoid sounding annoyed, rushed, disapproving, judgmental, or overly critical.

How to talk

The time to start discussing substance abuse is hopefully before your child becomes involved with drugs. It's best to begin this process while he or she is still quite young, because that's when the youngster will be most receptive. It is also imperative that you repeat your messages over and over through the years.

The following tips may make the job of communicating the dangers of drugs and alcohol a little easier:

  • Without lecturing, give very clear messages about how you feel about alcohol and drugs.

  • If you want a child to respect what you say, learn more than he or she knows about alcohol and drugs. With accurate information, you can combat misinformation.

  • Have clear rules and consequences about drug use and stand firm without exception.

  • If your child is using drugs, only talk to him or her when he or she is not under the influence. Don't lose your temper, but get tough. Let your child know that his or her drug use is wrong, but also stress that you still love him or her.

Warning signs

Your child may have a drug problem if you observe some of the following behaviors:

  • Extreme mood swings or changes in attitude.

  • Heightened secrecy about phone calls or possessions.

  • A sudden decline in attendance or performance at school.

  • A sudden resistance to discipline at home or school.

  • Disappearance of money, personal belongings, pills or alcohol.

  • A change of friends from those you know to ones who avoid you.

  • New friends among older teenagers or young adults.

  • A best friend who uses drugs.

  • Hostility, irritability, or temper flare-ups.

  • A lessening of concern about people, ideas, and values that used to be important.

What you can do

  • Set aside time to talk with your child on a daily basis.

  • Listen when your child has something to discuss.

  • Spend time together as a family.

  • Turn to a self-help group if you feel you can't handle a substance abuse problem.

  • Ask your child's health care provider to recommend help.