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Awkward is good when it comes to talking and trust

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Parenting means having unexpected, uncomfortable, or awkward conversation that begin when kids are young. We think we have years before we have to talk about sex or drugs and we envision bringing it up at just the right time, acting as their sage advisors.

Then you’re out running errands with grandma and your 4-year-old shows off his reading skills by blurting out “Mama! That sign says ‘Head Shop! What’s a Head Shop? Do they sell people’s heads there?’”

Teachable Moments

These situations may be unexpected and uncomfortable, but they‘re an opportunity to establish yourself as a wise counselor to your kids. Some of the best teachable moments come out of everyday situations. This is the time to take advantage of our children’s natural curiosity. When your 4-year-old child notices someone smoking, you can say that some people choose to smoke, but it isn’t healthy as it can hurt your lungs and make it hard to breathe. It can also make your teeth yellow. This is a teachable moment; as a parent, you are letting your child know your point of view (smoking is unhealthy) and possible consequence (yellow teeth) in an age appropriate way. 

Another teachable moment is when we host a party where adults are drinking alcohol and we hear “why do grown-ups like beer and wine?” we can explain that alcohol is fine for adults to drink occasionally, but it can harm young peoples’ developing brains. If a guest enjoyed their adult drinks a little too much and our kids notice, we can explain that alcohol changes how our brains work, and drinking too much makes it harder to be safe, no matter what age someone is.

Facts, not fear

We want to protect our children, no matter their age, so the first instinct when kids ask about drugs or alcohol is usually to say, don’t do it or make  extreme statements that drugs or alcohol kill people. But if we want our kids to come to us as the main source for information, we need to be willing to talk it through, even if it can be uncomfortable or awkward.

This doesn’t mean we should minimize the risks of substance use, but talking about the benefits of not using tobacco, marijuana or alcohol is a better strategy than focusing on the extremes.

Pointing out that our brains and bodies work better when we don’t use these substances keeps things factual, and doesn’t require us to add drama to make an impact. Instead, you’re stressing the importance that you as a parent want your child to make choices that will lead to them being healthy.

We’ve only just begun…

Like every other topic, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs will come up again and again, and that’s a good thing. Every time your child asks a question, it’s an opportunity to solidify your credibility and establish yourself as a resource, someone your kid knows they can turn to for honest answers when they’re not sure who to believe.

Resources are available to help us have ongoing and honest conversations, like the Speak Now! Colorado website from the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health. The website has information in English and Spanish on health effects of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, and includes proven tips for how to start the conversation and keep conversations going about substance use with our kids as they grow.

In partnership with Mile High Mamas.

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