Communication Across the Ages

Communication is one of the most effective tools people can use to protect children from substance use.  You want young people to feel comfortable talking with you about drugs, even if you are not comfortable. It is never too early to begin laying the foundation and equipping children with morsels of prevention.  It is never too late to start having these conversations.  It is never too late, or people too old, to continue having them.  You can provide them with reliable and correct information, before they get it elsewhere.    Incorporating substance use conversations as part of your health or safety discussions is easier than you think. 

Information should be shared  across the ages.  Doing so before a child is faced with difficult decision-making increases the chance they will avoid use.  Talk early.  Talk often.  Say much.  Do more.  Your disapproval is the number one deterrent to substance use.  Here are some general tips for talking with young people about substance use:

  • Use every day teachable moments throughout life to have continued conversations about substance use.
  • Engage them in substance abuse discussion.  Ask what they think.
  • Be a good listener.  Gently correct misperceptions, after they have finished speaking.
  • Have open and honest conversations.  Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Be equipped with factual information.  Be prepared to follow through on what you say.
  • Maintain a balance of information, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement.  Share some facts.   Share how much you value them.  Remind them of the harms that come from use.
  • Speak with care and love, even in the tough moments.
  • Set a positive example.  Walk your talk.

Below are some specific examples of things you can do and say during some of the different stages of growing up to help prevent substance use among young people.

Preschool

This may seem too soon.  The foundation for substance use prevention begins in the early years.  While they are too young to understand what drugs are and risks, it is not too early to set a good example and help a young person develop attitudes, habits and skills that can be used later in life to say no.   Helping them build strong bonds, healthy relationships, and communication skills can help prevent substance use later on. Here are some examples of what you can do and say.

Do: Set a positive example

Say: Maintain a healthy lifestyle with good habits.  “I am tired and am going to go to bed early.”

 

Do: Discuss ways to be healthy

Say: Talk about favorite things to be active.  “I like biking to be fit and strong.   What do you like?”

 

Do: Foster good habits

Say: Nurture problem solving skills.  “Oh no!  Your tower of blocks fell again.   Let’s look at it closely and try again.  We can do something different.”

 

Do: Talk about substances

Say: Point out the things in the home such as bleach, laundry soap and cleaners. Talk about what they are used for. “We put those under the sink with a lock because they can make us sick if we use them the wrong way.  They are to clean only.”

 

Do: Promote medicine safety

Say: Talk about what medicine is and who it is for.  “This medicine is only for grownups that have a cold. This one is Dad’s.  It has his name on it.  Anyone else can get sick if they take it.”

Early Elementary (K-3)

As children grow, you can explain more about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.  Use words they can understand to discuss that anything besides food can be very harmful.   Explain the importance of medicine in helping people who are sick.  Make sure they know how harmful these medicines can be if misused. Here are some examples of what you can do and say.

Do: Set a positive example

Say: Maintain a healthy lifestyle and encourage them to do so. “We’re going for a hike this weekend.  We can have a family game night when we get home if you’d like.” 

 

Do: Discuss health and safety

Say: Nurture thoughts of keeping their bodies safe and healthy.  “Please put your helmet on to ride a bike.  You have only one brain and we want to make sure nothing hurts it.”

 

Do: Foster good habits

Say: Help her develop independent thinking and let her make choices. “What a colorful outfit for today!  It is supposed to be very cold.  What else can you bring to keep warm?” 

 

Do: Talk about substances

Say: Use current events to spark a talk about substances.  (a person on the TV is smoking). “That smoke is going to harm his lungs.  We’ve only got one set.  What do you know about tobacco?”

 

Do: Promote medicine safety

Say: Explain that medicine is only helpful if taken by the person who is sick.  “Remember, just because it’s in the medicine cabinet, doesn’t mean it is for everyone.  Always tell an adult if you don’t feel good and have them see how best to help you.  Taking the wrong medicine could actually make you feel worse.” 

Elementary (4 – 6)

At this age, children are ready for more in depth information.  Talk about how their body works and how drugs can interfere.  They love to learn strange facts and information.  It is important you continue to take a strong stand about drugs.  Ask open ended questions to encourage discussion.  If a child does not have much to say, you will have at least sparked thought on the issue.  They will know they can speak with you in the future.  Their friends are becoming more of a focus.  Start asking what they will do if a friend offers them something. Here are some examples of what you can do and say.

Do: Set a Positive Example

Say: Maintain a healthy lifestyle and encourage them to do so.  “What a day!  I need to clear my head.  Want to go for a walk with me?”

 

Do: Discuss health and safety

Say: Review safety concepts and the importance of prevention to keep them in the best of health at home, school, with friends, or on the playing field.  “Wow, you want to try out for the hockey team.  Let’s look at what equipment we might need.”  Or, “You want me to take you hunting on Junior hunting day.  Cool!  First there is much to learn about the safety of firearms.  Let’s do that together.”

 

Do: Foster good habits 

Say: Encourage long term solutions rather than quick fixes.  “Hitting Johnny after he called you a baby might have made you feel better for the moment.  But you may be in trouble at school tomorrow.  And he may call you names.  Let’s talk about what we can do to prevent this from happening again. “

 

Do: Talk about substances

Say: Provide more specific information about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.  “Alcohol can be very dangerous, especially for young people whose bodies and brains are still developing.  For anyone, drinking too much alcohol can cause poisoning.  Even death.“

 

Do: Promote medicine safety

Say: Explain that medicine is only helpful if taken exactly as directed.  “Too much can be harmful, and not enough won’t help you feel better.  Let’s look at this allergy medicine label together and see who should use it, how to properly use it, and how much to take before I give it to you.”

 

Do: Practice refusal

Say: Help prepare them for situations they might face.  “Pretend I’m your best friend Henry and Henry says, Come on, just try it, it’s not a big deal.  I’ve done this with my older brother at least 5 times and I’m fine.  It’s so much fun.  What will you say?”

Teen

Kids may likely have peers who have tried substances.  They may have already formed their opinions about whether to use or not.  They may also feel like everyone is partying on the weekends.  Show them that you are listening. Reinforce that not everyone uses substances.  In fact, the majority seek other ways to have fun.  Make your disapproval of use clear as well as your expectations.  Talk about the consequences.   Talk about their future aspirations and how use or trouble with the law could get in the way of that. Here are some examples of what you can do and say.

Do: Set a Positive Example

Say: Maintain a healthy lifestyle and encourage them to do so. “Just because it’s legal for adults to use a substance doesn’t mean there are not harms from using it.  Because of this many people choose not to use.”

 

Do: Discuss health and safety

Say: Take advantage of teachable moments.  “How sad!  Three people died in that car accident yesterday.  The driver had been drinking.  We don’t ever want you to get in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.  Always call for a ride.  I don’t care where you are or what time it is.”

 

Do: Foster good habits

Say: Talk about what they can do when they feel nervous or stressed.  “When things bother me, it helps if I talk it out with your Aunt Jo.  I’m always here for you, but in case you want someone other than “mom”, who can you talk to if you have a bad day?”

 

Do: Talk about substances

Say: Learn what the trends are in your community and more about those substances.  Share what you learn.  “Have you ever heard of Molly?  I heard yesterday that some high school kids are getting it from college students.  Do you know what it is?  It sounds innocent but it is a really dangerous drug.  ”

 

Do: Promote medicine safety

Say: Explain that prescriptions can be harmful if misused.  “Even though a doctor recommends them, prescription drugs have risks.  Especially if taken by the wrong person.  Never share prescription medication and only use exactly as written on the label.”

 

Do: Practice refusal

Say: Help your child come up with some natural outs to situations she may face.  “How can you say no if you are offered a drink?  My mom will kill me.  I’ve already had 3.  No thanks.  I’m driving home.   What feels natural to you? “

Young Adult

Early adulthood presents unique challenges and opportunities to continue meaningful dialogue about substance use.  You may wonder if you’ve said all that you should by now.  Remind young adults of the ever increased likelihood that they will encounter drugs and alcohol.  Continue to remind them of who they are as an individual and all that they have going for them.  Talk about their future and how substance use can impact them today and in the days ahead.  Here are some examples of what you can do and say.

Do: Set a positive example

Say: Maintain a healthy lifestyle and encourage them to do so.  “Cases of sparkling water are on sale this week.  I’m going to pick up a few.  Want me to drop some off at your apartment?”

 

Do: Discuss health and safety

Say: Talk about who they can turn to in a difficult situation.  “I’m always here for you.  Please call anytime.  If you do find yourself in a dangerous situation, do you know how to find security?  How about medical help?”

 

Do: Foster good habits

Say: Encourage ways to remain safe from the harms of substance use.  “The likelihood of having an alcohol or drug problem are reduced if someone follows the low risk guidelines.  What do you know about them?”

 

Do: Talk about substances

Say: Keep the conversation going.  “Gee, there is a lot on the news lately about the heroin epidemic in this country.  What are you seeing and hearing?   I wonder what we can do help solve the problem.” 

 

Do: Promote medicine safety

Say: Speak about drug diversion.  “I know you don’t want anyone taking your meds by mistake.  Are they put away?  Make sure you keep track of what you have.  When you don’t need them anymore, bring them to the police department for safe disposal.”