Start the Conversation
The following tips can help set the stage for effective communication with your child. Before you start the conversation, however, be sure to spend some time learning the facts about alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs and the risks they pose for young people.
Tips for Effective Communication with Your Child
Be patient and ready to listen.
Be prepared to do more listening than talking – it should feel like a conversation, not a lecture. Try to keep an open mind and demonstrate your genuine concern and interest. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a detailed response rather than just “yes” or “no.” It’s OK for your conversation to take place over time, and in bits and pieces. Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk.”
Start the conversation naturally.
Your child will likely be more receptive to a relaxed approach as opposed to anything that feels like a formal “sit-down meeting.” Rather than say, “we need to talk,” you might begin by asking your child what’s new with their friends.
Let your child know they’re being heard.
Use active listening and reflect back what you are hearing. For example, you might say, “It sounds like you’ve been feeling anxious and you think drinking helps you relax and fit in with your friends. Is that right?”
Talk openly about your family history.
If there is a history of addiction in your family, then your child has a greater risk of developing a problem. Discuss this risk with your child as you would any other illness.
Be attentive, curious, respectful, and understanding. If you approach the situation with shame, anger, or scare tactics, your conversation may not be very productive. For example, let your child know that you are on their side and available to help them make sense of all the conflicting information they are receiving about drugs and alcohol.
Set clear expectations.
Make sure your child knows your rules and the consequences of breaking those rules. Most important, make sure they know that you really will impose those consequences if the rules are broken. Children who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use alcohol and drugs.
If your child is interested in drinking or using drugs, ask “Why?”
… and ask them what might happen if they do. This gets your child to think about their future and some of the possible negative consequences of drinking or using drugs. For example, they may be late to practice, do something stupid in front of their friends, or miss out on developing the skills needed in social settings. If you suspect that your child has been drinking, share your concerns without sounding accusatory. For example, “I’ve noticed that your grades are dropping and that you’re hanging out with a new crowd.” Focus on concerning behavior and why it worries you.
Teach your child how to say “no.”
Kids who don’t know what to say when someone offers them tobacco or other drugs are more likely to give in to peer pressure. Help them be prepared by role-playing different scenarios they might encounter. Let them know that they can always use you as an excuse. For example, “No, my parents signed me up for the drug-testing program at school.”
Offer empathy, compassion, and support.
Let your child know you understand: growing up can be tough. Acknowledge that everyone struggles sometimes, but that alcohol and drugs are not a helpful or healthy way to cope with problems. Let your child know that they can come to you for support and guidance. Model healthy ways of coping with stress such as exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep.
Give them the facts.
Don’t leave your child’s substance use education to their school. Learn the facts yourself so you can share them with your child. Let them know how important it is to protect their brains during these years of growth and development. Help your child to understand the negative impact of drug use on their minds and bodies, not to mention on their college and career options. Tell them about the unpredictable nature of dependency and how it varies from person to person. And offer them more positive approaches to reducing stress and anxiety.