If you’re wondering how to raise a drug-free kid, you’re not alone. Nearly all parents have the same concern, especially today when drug addiction is so prevalent. Parents are the number one reason why kids don’t do drugs though, according to Informed Families. You have an immense role in setting an example they’ll follow.
You’ve likely heard of Red Ribbon Week if you have a school-aged child. The nationwide campaign works to guide kids away from alcohol and drugs. However, the developing strength and skills needed for children to take a stand against drug use starts at home, long before they even get to school. And, raising a drug-free kid can never start too soon.
Below are tips for raising drug-free kids starting from their early years, representing part one in our five-part series on “Tips for Raising Drug-Free Kids.”
The Importance of Prevention
Children who don’t use tobacco, drugs and alcohol do so largely because of the positive influence their parents have on them and because they want to avoid disappointing their parents. It’s imperative to build a strong relationship with your children and talk to them about substance abuse. And, the earlier you do, the better.
Some ways you can build that positive relationship with your children and begin to talk to them about drug addiction and abuse include:
- Talking to your kids daily. Ask them about their day and what happened to them and share what happened to you.
- Asking your children questions that encourage them to talk. Include your kids in making decisions and ask them their opinions. Let them know you value their input and thoughts.
- Talking to your kids about drugs as early as the fourth grade. Children experience peer pressure early. Start a conversation with them about drugs before someone else does. They may already know about them and have questions.
- Listening to your kid’s concerns without judgment. Don’t preach. Repeat their concerns back to them to ensure you understand them.
- Participating in something your kids want to do each day. Watch that Disney movie with them for the 20th time, sit down for a family dinner or head to an amusement park for the day. Build your relationship with your child and show them that you value their opinion.
- Attending recitals, special events, games and other activities. Support your child’s participation in afterschool activities and praise them for their efforts.
- Helping your kids through their problems. Let your children know that you’re there for support and are ready to offer advice.
Even a brief discussion about drugs can go a long way. Be sure you engage your kids in the conversation too. You can do this by:
- Asking them how they feel about drugs and alcohol.
- Asking them what they know about drugs and their addiction and abuse.
- Asking them what their concerns are about drugs and alcohol use.
When you start talking to your kids early and often about drugs, they’ll be less inclined to experiment with drugs.
The Facts on Childhood Drug Use
Using drugs, which includes misusing household substances or prescription medications and abusing illegal drugs, is something some adolescents experiment with — and a few more frequently.
By the time they hit 12th grade, around half of teens will have abused an illicit drug at least once, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Of kids who have tried alcohol, one in four had their first drink by 12, reports the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The above statistics are worrisome, but there is some good news for you as a parent as you can have a direct impact on the probability that your child uses drugs. Kids whose parents taught them about the risks of alcohol and drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than children who weren’t taught, according to the DEA.
These are just a few childhood drug abuse statistics to give you an idea of drug use in kids, and how you can play a major role in prevention.
Building a Strong Foundation:
It’s during the early years that you want to begin teaching “healthy habits” and making them fun. Times like these are when you stress to your children the importance of eating right, taking care of their bodies, playing outdoors and getting plenty of sleep at night. Explain to them how good it feels to take care of yourself — how they can jump, run and play energetically for hours when they take good care of themselves.
Emphasize to your child the need to take personal responsibility for their well-being, health and personal environment. Make sure your instructions are clear and concrete and stated with positivity.
Turn tasks, like these below, into fun experiences:
- Putting toys away.
- Brushing teeth.
- Caring for pets.
- Wiping up spills.
Break these tasks down into smaller manageable steps, so your child learns how to develop plans.
Other specific ways you can lay down the foundation for healthy habits include:
Celebrate good decisions.
Recognize the awesome choices your child makes and their decision-making skills. Plenty of opportunities exist for you to commend the small choices your kids make each day to help them feel empowered. For instance, you can allow your child to pick out what they want to wear. And even if the clothes they pick don’t match, you’re still reinforcing your child’s decision-making ability.
Set boundaries and monitor behavior.
Kids need consistent rules and limits. You shouldn’t be afraid to tell your child “no” or to enforce age-appropriate consequences for misbehavior, such as having them sit in a chair for a “time out” for several minutes.
These consequences aren’t necessarily about discipline — they’re more about gently, but firmly building yourself up as an authority figure. When you overlook unhealthy behaviors early in your child’s life, it can develop into bigger problems, including using drugs and alcohol.
Give positive reinforcement of healthy decision making.
Good parenting is a balance of rewarding good behavior, giving consequences for poor behavior and staying involved in your children’s life. If your child is already prone to addiction due to an already existing biochemical problem, being overly punishing, overprotective, too permissive or not there at all, could increase the chance of your child becoming addicted.
When explaining things to your child:
- Be sure you’re using terms that they can understand.
- Be open with them.
- Make it comfortable for your child to talk to you about difficult topics like smoking, alcohol and drugs.
Praise your child frequently for doing what’s right and respecting your rules. It takes mere seconds to give them a hug and thank them for making an excellent decision. Positive reinforcement like this helps boost their self-esteem and reduces the chance of your child turning to drugs to feel good.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should overlook unhealthy behaviors. It’s just important to recognize the good behaviors and reward them because positive reinforcement is a powerful tool.
Toddlers learn by watching, which is why your behavior can play an immense role in their later childhood years when they may encounter alcohol or drugs. Become a role model for your child through the following steps:
Set a positive example of healthy decision making.
By making responsible, healthy decisions about drug use, you’re demonstrating positive behavior that your children will mimic. As they get older and begin facing peer pressure, the actions you instill in them can be instrumental in keeping their resolve to say no to drugs and alcohol.
Set good examples for your child to learn from when it comes to using drugs by:
- Drinking moderately to show them how to make healthy choices with alcohol.
- Refraining from excessive drinking to show them you’re able to solve problems in a healthy manner.
- Abstaining from drugs and drinking altogether to show them that alcohol and drugs aren’t essential for having fun.
Supporting the motto, “drug-free for kids,” can also set a positive example. If your child’s physician prescribes them medications, be sure they take them only as directed.
Help your child walk away from drugs. Point out harmful and poisonous chemicals typically found in homes, such as kitchen cleaners, bleach and furniture polish. Read the warning labels on these products out loud to your kids.
Explain to them that they should only eat and smell food or take medicine that you or a designated caregiver gives to them. Let them know that any medications a doctor gives are to help them and that they could harm others if shared.
Focus on how to word things.
Toddlers are always asking questions. It’s important to provide answers that they can understand, but also teach them positive habits. Below are some examples of how to word things to your child in different circumstances.
Example # 1: Giving your kids a daily vitamin.
What to say: “Vitamins are necessary to help your body grow. If you want to grow up like Mommy and Daddy and be big and strong, you should take a vitamin each day. But, you should only take the vitamin I give you or else you could get sick.”
Example # 2: Your children are curious about medication bottles they see around your home.
What to say: “You only take medications that your doctor has chosen for you only and that have your name on it. If you take another person’s medication, it could make you sick.”
Example # 3: Your children see you smoking, and because you’ve told them how dangerous smoking is, they’re confused.
What to say: “Grownups can make their own decisions. Occasionally, these decisions aren’t always the best for their bodies. When people start to smoke, although unhealthy, sometimes their body feels like it needs cigarettes and this makes it difficult for them to quit smoking.”
Avoid medications, drugs and alcohol while breastfeeding.
Quit smoking, don’t drink more than a couple of cups of coffee each day, and don’t take any medication or drugs while breastfeeding. If they’re prescribed to you, try to take them a few hours before or immediately after you feed your baby.
Lead by example.
Keep in mind that what you do influences your child’s future behavior. Leading by example is crucial, particularly during the preschool years when your child imitates your actions.
For instance, have you ever come home from work after a hard day and said aloud that you need a drink? Or during holiday gatherings, do you or guests get visibly “buzzed?” These are messages you unintentionally send to your children.
Kids learn largely in part by what they see. Much of their attitudes about drug abuse are shaped by your actions and attitudes. If you do drink, for instance, do it in moderation, and never suggest that drugs or alcohol are a way to overcome problems. You want to instead, show your kids how to cope with problems in healthy ways, such as listening to music, exercising or talking to friends about their issues.
At the same time, however, you don’t want to be dishonest about your history of drug use. You may feel uncomfortable talking to your kids about your experiences with drugs. If you do talk to them and share your past use, don’t glorify your experiences, but be honest about them.
Reinforcing the Walls: Elementary School Years
During these elementary school years, your children are developing individuality and are becoming more independent. They’re exploring their identity and beginning to spend more time with their peers. These years are a crucial juncture for you to continue to talk with your child about maintaining a drug-free, healthy lifestyle. After all, you’re the guide to raising drug-free children, and it’s your voice they will hear and respond to the most.
Realize the importance of being a reliable source.
Similar to how you’d protect your children’s immunity against illnesses like mumps and measles, you can also “immunize” them against choosing drugs by providing them with the facts about drugs before they get themselves into a risky situation.
To be a good source of correct information for your child, you need to educate yourself on the effects of using drugs and learn the facts and clear up misconceptions. You’re their role model, and your views on drugs can have a strong influence on how your kids think about them. Therefore, it’s important to make talking about drugs a regular part of your safety and general health conversations.
You aren’t expected to have all the answers about drugs — or even about parenting. But, even if you did have all the answers, your kids, at certain rebellious stages, will seem as if they’re not even listening to you. But, they are. So keep talking.
And to keep talking and communicating effectively with your kids about drug use, it’s essential that you get the proper information on drugs and understand the information you read so that you can provide guidance and advice to your kids.
Regardless of where you live, eventually your children will get exposed to alcohol or drugs, so you should familiarize yourself with the various drugs they may encounter. Drug names and how they’re used change, so it’s important that you review the drugs, street names and paraphernalia in your area.
Begin to outline and enforce rules.
One crucial protective factor is that you stay consistent in your “no drugs” message. Make sure your kids are clear on how you feel about this by repeating this message to them frequently. Don’t just assume they know how you feel, help them make smart life choices by setting boundaries.
Children are regularly receiving conflicting messages from peers, social media and television. They may not know which way to turn. Help them as their role model and parent by stating your position, but also why. No, you don’t want drugs in your home or child’s hands because:
- Drugs can harm their health.
- Drugs are illegal.
- You love them.
Make sure they know that while you would be disappointed if you found out they were using drugs that your love for them wouldn’t change. A stern or forceful approach can cause children to withdrawal from their parents and stop having open conversations. A softer approach encourages them to continue having open discussions with you.
By setting rules, you’re also giving your children a “way out” when they become tempted. Rules take the pressure off your child and put the blame on you, which will probably be more comfortable for your child to do among peers.
Set appropriate consequences for when your child breaks a rule and enforce them. Be prepared as they’ll likely test your rules to see if you will enforce them. If they do test your rules, make sure you do enforce them. Your kids will feel secure and loved.
You should also:
Talk about the media and peer pressure your kids’ experience. Have a conversation with your children about the drug-related messages they’re getting from the media. Some movies, TV shows, ads and music videos glamorize the use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
Ask your kids if this type of media makes drugs seem cool or if they show their downside as well. Encourage them to share concerns and ask questions about what they’re hearing and seeing through the media and their peers.
Find “teachable moments” and use them to your advantage. For instance, if you see a character on TV or in a movie with a cigarette, talk to your child about smoking and how it can become addicting. Talking like this can lead into a conversation about drugs and how harmful they are.
Focus on the immediate negative impact of drug use. Obtain information on the direct adverse effects of using drugs. Concentrate on the harmful effects of the drugs your child may try first, such as tobacco and alcohol. Move on to the impact of other drugs they may be familiar with like inhalants, cocaine or marijuana.
Children don’t think from a long-term perspective at this age, so this approach is often helpful.
Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Stay involved in your child’s social lives, regardless of their age. You don’t have to tag along with them every time they leave your home, but you should know what they’re doing, where they’re going and what friends will be there.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you know who your child’s friends are when they go out to play with them? You don’t have to be in the same room all the time when they’re playing, but you should be aware of who your child’s friends are.
- Do you know your child’s friends’ parents? If your child is asked over to a sleepover party, meet the parents and ensure the group is going to be supervised. Get to know the parents. They may turn out to be great allies since they likely want their children to remain drug-free too.
You should also talk to the parents and let them know about your strict “NO use” policy for alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Ask them to enforce your “NO use” policy when your child is in their care, promise you’ll do the same for them, and exchange contact information.
- Teach your child what to do in uncomfortable situations. The DEA and the U.S. Department of Education suggest you give your child a “way out” in a situation where alcohol or drugs show up. Have them contact you or another adult you designate if they feel uncomfortable. Other ideas you could consider, include:
- Make it easier for your child in stressful situations to “get out” by preparing excuses for them. Go over the responses with them until they become second nature.
- Practice role-playing as the peer who’s pushing them to do drugs.
- Teach your child how to change the subject by asking about movies or music to move the conversation in a different direction.
- Involve your child in extracurricular activities. Get your kids involved in healthy drug-free activities so they appreciate living a healthy lifestyle. Children who enjoy drug-free activities and respect a healthy lifestyle are more likely to say no to dangerous situations, like doing drugs or drinking alcohol.
Sign your kids up for community programs or groups that emphasize how a healthy lifestyle has a positive impact. Community functions like this reinforce your drug-free messages and provide the opportunity for your kids to stay active, have fun and develop friendships.
- Find tips on how to talk to your children about drugs. As your child makes their way through elementary school, you may run out of ideas for how to talk to them about drugs. Below are some ways to start:
- Explain how drugs affect their body and the legal consequences of drug use.
- Ensure your children know that you don’t want them to use drugs because of the risks.
- Discuss why it’s not okay to use drugs — it’s against the law for children to use cigarettes or alcohol and drugs are illegal for everyone if they’re not prescribed.
- Explain the harm drugs can do to people and provide a few examples, such as slowed growth, transmission of AIDS through sharing needles, accidents and impaired coordination.
- Discuss drug-free facts like healthier lifestyle, better friendships and better school performance.
If your child reveals they’ve tried drugs, reinforce that you still love them and appreciate their honesty. Start a discussion to learn why and help keep them from forming an addiction.
Know the substances your child may see. Kids today are exposed to drugs at a very young age because they see them on television, in movies and videos, plus they hear about them through music. Social media and social networking sites, as well as classmates also expose your child to learning about drugs in a way that may contain inaccurate information or depictions or drug-use.
Substances your child may be exposed to include:
- Household products or inhalants
- OTC medications
- Prescription stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall or Concerta
- Barbiturates like Amytal and Seconal
- Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax
- Stimulants like cocaine or ecstasy
And there you have it. Talking to your kids about avoiding drugs shouldn’t be a one-time event. It should instead be an ongoing series of conversations starting in your child’s preschool years and continuing through their teenage years. Each talk you have with your child can be thought of as a “chunk” of the ongoing conversation.
Next in our five-part series of, “Tips for Raising Drug-Free Kids,” covers the middle school years.
If you’re in need of a personal, confidential consultation about drug or alcohol addiction, we can help at 12 Keys Rehab. Our team provides compassionate care with a small client to counselor ratio so that you can receive the care and commitment you deserve. Contact us via our toll-free phone number — 866-957-3243 — or online form to learn more.