How to Talk to Your Child About Alcohol & Drugs
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
Parents often struggle with how to talk to their child about resisting alcohol and drugs. Getting your message across is more than just having one or two conversations. Your message to your child has to take a comprehensive approach and be consistent over time to have a long-term impact.
Be intentional. What is your vision for the kind of adult you want your child to become? Keeping this vision in mind will help guide each individual decision you make as a parent. It will also help you keep your actions, words and values consistent and increase the positive influence you can have on your child as they grow. The earlier you begin helping your child identify what they should value and what they should avoid, the more ingrained those patterns are likely to become.
Focus on Your Relationship. Your relationship with your child may be the most important factor in helping your child avoid using drugs. You have to build credibility with your child over time by valuing them as an individual and reinforcing that they are valuable, lovable and capable human beings. The strength of your relationship will directly impact how much they value what you have to say.
Be a Good Role Model. Do you need a drink after a rough day at work? Do you make alcohol a central element in your personal life? Do you use drugs, even prescription drugs, to deal with stress or pain? If you have a legitimate reason to need prescription drugs, make sure your child understands why you need them, and be sure that you use them only as prescribed. If you use alcohol, you need to clarify to your child when and how alcohol use is appropriate and when it is not.
Share Your Values. Talk to your child about your own life experiences that have led you to hold certain values. Talk about real life examples of problems others have had from using. Telling your own story, rather than simply stating your rules, will have a more meaningful impact on helping your child understand why you hold certain values.
Take Advantage of Teachable Moments. Make discussions about alcohol and drug use a regular part of your conversations with your child. You are more likely to get your message across by sharing one or two thoughts at a time, as they come up, rather than making a one-time pitch to avoid using. Look for times when alcohol or drugs has caused problems for others, such as vehicle accidents, addiction, jail, lost jobs, or damaged relationships. Don’t be afraid to have real life, age-appropriate discussions with your child. Over time, the consistency of your message will have a more powerful influence.
Teach Critical Thinking. Occasionally ask your child questions such as, “How do you handle stress?”, “What do you do when you get angry?”, “Has anyone ever offered you drugs?” Help them think about the ways they handle problems, as well as how to resist negative peer pressure. Look for opportunities to address the issue of alcohol and drug use as you notice it coming up in television, movies, song lyrics and advertising. Teach your child to examine what they hear and question the motivation behind those messages. This will empower them to practice the same skills when confronted with messages from their peers.
Empower Your Child. Help your child develop confidence in his ability to make decisions and to chart his own course, even when it is different from his peers. Involve your child in making decisions at home. Ask their opinion about solving problems and, when feasible, use their suggestions. Express confidence and pride in your child. Look for ways to show them that you value them as individuals and believe in their ability to find solutions and make good decisions. This will help instill confidence and lessen the attraction of needing to make poor choices in order to gain the acceptance of peers.
Set Boundaries. Stay involved in your child’s life, especially as they get into the teenage years. Know who their friends are, where they are going and who else will be there. Even though they may sigh and roll their eyes when you ask, it is critical to helping you have some control over who is influencing them and the opportunities they have for making poor choices. You cannot protect them from every bad influence, but your consistency and concern will send the message that you care about them and that staying on the straight and narrow is important.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.