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7 Tips for talking about drugs and alcohol with kids

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It can be intimidating to talk with our kids about smoking, vaping, drinking or misusing prescription medications. Here are some ways to establish trust (and make it less awkward).

It’s hard enough to get a response from our kids when we ask how their day went, so the prospect of starting a conversation with them about tobacco, alcohol and drugs probably seems about as exciting as folding laundry. On the other hand, we know it’s important, and we want our kids to know they can come to us with questions about drinking, smoking or other drugs, so they’ll make healthy choices when we aren’t around.

Building that trust means starting early, and keeping those conversations going. The good news is you’re not alone, there are resources out there to help us get the ball rolling and stay on track.

Here are some tips to help start an ongoing discussion with kids about substance use:

  1. Plan ahead: Are you worried because a friend’s child got into trouble with drugs or alcohol? Do you want to give your child skills to say no to peer pressure before it happens? Understanding what you want to say ahead of time makes it more likely you’ll be satisfied with the outcome.
  2. Create time (and space) to talk: Choose a time and place where neither of you will be rushed, bothered nor distracted.
  3. Be honest: Establishing yourself as a resource means telling the truth about our own substance use. If our kids know we’re being honest with them, they’ll be more likely to return the favor. On the flipside, nothing can damage trust faster than your child finding out you lied to them.
  4. Take advantage of opportunities: Seeing a movie with characters who smoke, watching the local news cover a story about marijuana, driving home from a family gathering where a relative obviously had too much to drink— situations like these are a chance to talk about real-life consequences of substance use and reinforce the message you want your kids to understand.
  5. Lead by example: Our children notice when we have a glass of wine, a cigarette or use prescription medications. Our behavior around substances can reinforce, or undermine, the message we want them to understand about drinking, smoking or using other drugs.
  6. You ARE being heard: Whether it seems like you’re getting through to them or not, research shows kids really do care what their parents and caregivers think about substance use. They may roll their eyes, they may complain, just know you are making an impact.
  7. Keep lines of communication open: Check in with your kids. Ask about their friends, a new favorite band, their job, or what’s going on in their lives. Reminding them you’re genuinely interested in their lives makes it much more likely that they’ll come to you in times of need.

Hopefully this list will help you start having open, honest and ongoing conversations about substance use with your kids, and even more information and resources are available.

A great one is the Speak Now! Colorado website from the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health. It has age-specific suggestions you can use to have fact-based conversations about how alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, vaping, prescription medications and other substances can affect your kids’ health.

There are also scenarios to help you figure out how to start the conversation, and plans to help your children resist pressure from peers to use substances like marijuana, alcohol and other drugs.

In partnership with Mile High Mamas. 



Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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