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How to talk about drugs with children

You must find the right words, the right moment, the good examples… How can you inform your children without scaring them or making them want to try it out?

Your child will hear about drugs before you think. In fact, as soon as they get in school, children will be exposed either to the substances or to biased information. Therefore, it is best to tell them what they need to know. That is why specialists recommend talking about drugs between the age of 5 and 7 years old. Do you think it is too early? The younger your child is, the more receptive he will be. The odds are in your favour.

Besides, do not believe that addressing this delicate subject will make him want to try the substances. Studies have shown that there is no link between information and consumption. In fact, quite the contrary because knowing that he can discuss this subject with you, your child will be reassured and less tempted to try it in secret.

The good words, the right way

First of all, try not to give all the information and tips at once. Ask him to tell you what he already knows and you will know where to start. Ask him to tell you about what he heard in school and with his friends and then give him an accurate picture of drugs and alcohol.

Parlons drogues (in English), a website launched by the Ministère de la Santé et des services sociaux of Québec contains a lot of useful information that will feed your discussions based on the age of your child.

  • Addressing the issue in a specific context can make things easier. Find occasions to talk about it during movies or with the help of the newspapers, with a family situation to show what happens concretely when you are under the influence of drugs.
  • With this in mind, you can talk about it through role-play. You can ask him: “What would you do if someone offered you drugs?” And help him find answers to your questions.
  • Avoid using an authoritative tone when you discuss this with your child.
  • Of course, you must share the idea of caution and distrust to drugs but you should also listen to what your child has to say.
  • Without minimizing the possible effects, don’t go overboard when you discuss the consequences of using drugs.
  • Establish clear rules concerning the use of drugs (this advice applies to the mothers of pre-teens of course)
  • Lead by example!

On the other hand, it is best not to overemphasize anecdotes of your past. These little tales can deflect the discussion and undermine its progress. However, if you were using drugs regularly, be honest with your child and explain that you do not want him to make the same mistakes as you.

If he wanted to try: why?

Young people who try drugs do so for many reasons.

  • Copy others and impress friends
  • Have fun
  • Try something new
  • Challenge authority and provoke adults
  • Fight shyness
  • Let off steam or fight boredom
  • Imitate adults
And if he tried: how would you know?

Some symptoms can reveal drug use, regular or not. Here are a few:

  • Redness of eyes
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Dry and sticky mouth
  • Frequent sniffing
  • Decline in school performance
  • Hanging in places where there is drug trafficking
  • Coming home later
  • Withdrawal in his bedroom
  • Presence of unusual objects
And if he really tried: what should you say?

Despite your concern and anger, do not attack him and criticize him, calling him names and threatening of the worst punishments! Your trust must survive this ordeal if you don’t want him to shut himself up even more and hide what he is going through. The choice of words and the tone used could have consequences that you would like to avoid so try to remain calm and carefully choose your words. The MSSS website suggests this approach: “Listen, I think there are some things you are not telling me and it worries me. I want you to feel free to talk about it. I don’t want to lecture you or punish you but I would like to know what is going on so I can help you make the right decisions.”

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By Josée Descôteaux

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