Talking to your kids about substances

Talking to your children about drugs and alcohol early and often is a key part of prevention. One conversation isn’t enough. Parents and guardians should create a safe space where children feel free to be open and honest, and have small frequent conversations about substances. 

Children can be intimidated by a formal, sit-down talk at the dinner table – especially if that type of behavior is unusual for your family. Try approaching conversations about alcohol and other substances in little moments like on your drive to school or during a TV commercial break. Casual approaches prevent your child from going into the conversation defensive or anxious. 

Though you don’t want your conversation to be formal or scary, it is important to set clear rules and boundaries regarding substances. Make it known that underage drinking or use of any substance not prescribed is not okay. Children hone in on honesty. Being direct and honest with your child will encourage them to do the same for you, which will ultimately build trust in your relationship. This foundation of honesty and trust will be crucial as they get older, and the exposure and opportunities to use substances increase, and these discussions can grow more challenging. Even if the conversation becomes harder to approach, or your child becomes more distant, it’s crucial that you make sure they know their voice is heard and respected, and that your concerns are out of love and with the intention of keeping them safe. 

While considering having conversations with your children, it’s important to contemplate what your substance use habits look like at home. Do you drink in moderation or in excess at times? Have you taken prescription pills out of context in front of them? Do you make comments like “I needed this” when pouring yourself a drink? Children are always watching, and will pay attention to your actions sometimes even more closely than to your words. Make sure your child is able to see a healthy relationship with substances in their parent or guardian, and never practice irresponsible, dangerous acts like driving after drinking. If you have alcohol in the house, be honest with your children about it, keep it in a safe, designated location, and set clear rules that it is off-limits. 

If you are struggling to begin a conversation with your child about substance use, or have hit a wall in your communication with them, call 988. A professional will listen to the challenges you’re having and connect you with the additional prevention resources you need. You’re doing the right thing, just by being here. You are not alone.