Getting Real with Shadra Bruce
I started to write this by saying “the conversation you have with your kids about drugs is one of the most difficult and most important you’ll ever have.”
To really have an impact on your kids about drugs, it can’t be a single conversation. It has to be multiple conversations over a period of years. And it can’t just be conversations about not doing drugs. It needs to be a consistent parenting effort in which you help your children understand their power to make choices and their responsibility to accept the consequences of their choices – and to be able to make the connection between the two. And it also requires raising your kids in a way that they know they’re loved and valued as individuals, that they’re given a voice, and that you are the safe people in their lives. And you can do all that and they still may end up experimenting with drugs or becoming addicts, because no matter how great we are as parents, our kids have other influences in their lives – friends, school, other adults, other family, etc.
Which is why your best effort in keeping your kids drug free starts when they are just toddlers and younger. It’s when your children are in the infant and toddler stage that you set boundaries and teach kids about making good choices; it’s at this young age that you have the most influence and opportunity for impact.
Here are 4 things you can do to help keep your kids on a drug-free path:
Communicate – All the Time
Talk, and talk often. If you keep the lines of communication open, then discussing drugs can be an ongoing effort. Learn how to talk to your children but more importantly, learn how to listen to your children. Serious discussions take place over time and work best when built upon a foundation of mutual trust.
Show Affection and Respect
Show affection for your kids, openly and unabashedly. Tell them you love them, every day. Praise them for who they are, not just things they do. This is important when your kids are young and building self-esteem; it becomes even more important as they get older and become teenagers. Teens are competing for the approval of their peers; it helps a lot when they know they already have the approval of their parents. If your child does not feel accepted or loved by you, they may seek that approval elsewhere from peers who might be doing drugs or using alcohol.
Don’t Be Naive
Know that no matter how “good” your child is or how great their grades are, they will have access to and exposure to drugs – at school, in the community, at the homes of friends. You cannot isolate your kids from drugs, so you have to make them strong enough and secure enough to be ok saying no. Children crave boundaries and rules so that they feel safe. Even when they are testing you at every point, they’re really just making sure you’re still going to enforce the rules and protect them. Be clear with them that doing drugs is not acceptable, and that there will be consequences.
Give them an Out
Help your kids get out of sticky moments. When I was a teenager, my mom always told me if something was happening that I didn’t know how to handle, to call her and ask her to pick me up and to tell her I had a headache. We’ve told our kids the same – feign being sick if you can’t just say no; call us, no questions asked if you need to get out of someplace.
Worried your child might be taking drugs? Be alert to changes in your child’s behavior, including any changes in appetite, a decline in grades, or feelings of apathy. Drug use may cause your child to become more withdrawn, less inclined to engage in family activities, and more likely to be overly sensitive. If your child does need professional help with overcoming a drug problem, contact a rehab center where they can help your child or teen work through and overcome a drug problem. For more information about keeping kids drug free, we recommend the following resources:
Have a resource you’d like to see on this list? Let us know!