Relax – You’ve got this
As parents, grandparents, older siblings, guardians, or a trusted adults – or any other role as elder in a conversation with a child, we may encounter a moment (or several) where the subject of drug use comes up. Some of us may have an easy response ready and are comfortable with continuing, but some of us feel it’s a touchy subject, or don’t feel equipped with the “right” answers and get nervous or worried about continuing.
No parent is expected to know everything about drugs and how their use can affect the lives of our children. That’s okay. Even if you feel you don’t have all the answers, just start the conversations from where you are.
Getting informed about substances can help you feel more at ease about sharing those evidence-based facts about drugs with your kids. If you do not feel like you know enough about a particular substance, use the opportunity to say so – and invite your child to research substances online with you.
Begin these safety conversations about drugs when your kids are young. These conversations should be age-appropriate, whether your children are pre-schoolers, pre-teens or teens, each age group needs conversations that are specific to their age, developmental stage or experiences. When you start early, your younger kids will also understand the health consequences of using substances like medicines and vitamins when they’re young.
When you’re ready to talk, try to make it a relaxed two-way discussion, not a lecture. Discuss your feelings about substance use calmly and listen to what they have to say. Ask them what they’ve heard at school about cannabis, for example, and actively listen to what they are saying to you.
Understand that kids may have a very different understanding or perception about drug and alcohol use and the chances are they’ve already heard things from their peers that might be misleading or don’t align with your own feelings. Try not to dismiss their input but listen with an open and calm mind.
Make your expectations clear. Every family has rules around the use of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis. Your kids need to clearly understand what the family boundaries are and what the consequences will be if they cross the line. But be sure to let them know that no matter what, if they ever need help, they can always reach out to you.
Younger kids look up to their older siblings – and if you have older teens or young adult children who use substances, it’s a good idea to include the entire family in the conversations you have about substance use.
Even as a single or divorced parent, keeping your family’s discussions about drugs open and non-judgemental will build trust and connection with your children from the get-go, and as time goes on, they may feel more comfortable about talking with you at any time about their own feelings about substance use.
Need help finding the right words? Get prepared. We’ve got some tips for parents and families to help fine tune the tone. Find out more.
Practice, practice, practice. You’re going to have these conversations many times – you may need to have a couple of practice runs before you get started. Review some suggested conversations.
But what if your teen is already using drugs?
Intervening when your child is already experimenting with or using drugs might not be an easy thing to do, but having open conversations with them can offer valuable opportunities to find out more about why they might have decided to try it, which can help you consider and evaluate what your next steps will be.