A few of you asked about the how and when of the "drug talk" at our house. Most of you have children age 6 and under. A lot of you have kids 9 and under. So you naturally look to me as the expert on all things. (Insert snickering.) I wanted to share with you how we addressed and continue to address the issue of drugs with our children.
First of all, I highly recommend this book:
I found this at our local library last year and the title caught my eye. I found it to be an amazing resource and I think it is a must read for anyone who is raising a child in today's world. If your kids are younger, don't think the material doesn't apply to you. I can honestly tell you your kids will be older before you know it.
We talk about all kinds of topics openly. Our children are adopted and they're obviously adopted, so we have not had a choice in the matter of waiting until they're older to have difficult conversations with them. As early as we have been able to, David and I have spoken with them about adoption. We always keep it appropriate for their age level and never give them more information than we think their brains can actually process, but we do talk about it. The topic of adoption is a perfect example of how parents can discuss sometimes awkward or unpleasant issues with their kids. Drugs are unpleasant and sometimes awkward to talk about, but it can be done.
We talk about our values daily. I'm sure you do, too. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that since Carver was 4, I have explained to my kids on a weekly basis that our values may differ from other families' values, but they are ours nonetheless and I expect them to abide by them. Every family does things differently. We are no exception. By bringing your family's values into your daily conversations, your children learn that you care about where they fit into the world around them. As we've had those teachable moments when our values play a role in our discussions, we have also begun to explain to them that drugs will have no part in our family. Don't be afraid to talk about drugs alongside your views on charity, health, and priorities.
Teach your kids to say no. OK, most of your kids are probably really adept at saying no--to you--but I meant that you should teach them to say no to their friends and peers. If they can practice this in the little things, and get used to the idea that they will not burst into flames when they choose not to do what their friends do, it empowers them to say no to bigger things in the future.
We started with smoking. The first drug conversation you'll have with your kids will probably be about smoking. Kids are curious (at some point) when they see adults smoking. They want to know what it is and how it works and why the adults (or 15 year olds) are doing it. When our children asked us about cigarettes, we shared with them how they work and how it is addicting. We then told them that smoking is so harmful to your lungs and if they grew up and chose to smoke, they probably wouldn't be able to ride their bikes as hard or run as fast, and they would smell very yucky. Keep it age appropriate for your kids, and let them know what the consequences of smoking are in terms they can grasp.
Elementary school. By the time Carver and Lily were in second grade, we used the term "drugs" with them in a general way. As in, "Smoking and other drugs are very bad for your body." We related it to smoking because that was something they could sort of grasp. "Drugs" was just a word to them at that point, but it was at least in their vocabulary.
Fourth grade. I think fourth grade was the year we really began discussing with Carver what drugs do. We talked about the fact that people used them to feel good for a little while, but that they were illegal and could also do so much destruction. We were pretty specific about brain damage, cancer, seizures, etc. He asked some questions, and we were able to share with him that some drugs are pills and other drugs you smoked. It was then that we introduced the concept to him that at some point in his life someone would ask him if he wanted to try them. We told him this would happen. We even told him that it might happen with a friend. He knew that he should say no, but we gave him the tools to say no. This is key. A lot of parents tell their children, "just say no" but they don't teach them how. We told Carver there could be all kinds of scenarios in which this might happen to him, and we gave him a way of escape in every scenario. We even gave him lines he could use like, 'My parents would ground me and I really want to go skateboarding this weekend." Then we practiced with him. That might sound like overkill, but until a kid practices and you role play with them, their odds of remembering what to say aren't as strong.
Dialogue, not a lecture. Since Carver was in fourth grade, we have occasionally brought the subject up again. You usually know when the time is right. A conversation might lead that way naturally or your child might have more questions. As long as you're making it a part of your family dialogue, it never feels like a lecture. If you just decide one day when your child is 12 to sit them down and tell them to say no to drugs, I doubt your kid will understand the severity or the context of your words.
As they get older, get more specific. Once Carver began sixth grade, we became more specific about what types of drugs he could see, what they're called, and how they work. Last fall the drug "spice" was making its way through multiple cities around the country and it was getting a lot of press here. At the time, spice was legal (it was a concoction of herbs that you could smoke), easy to buy, and mimicked the high you would get from pot. There was a girl in our community who got hurt while high on spice because she thought she could fly and she jumped off a cement wall. (Fortunately, she recovered.) David casually worked it into our dinner conversation, and he told Carver to be aware. (On a side note, spice is now illegal in our city.) We have not told Carver about meth or cocaine or LSD, etc., etc. I'm not that crazy. But at the time, it seemed like a good idea to at least let him know that kids were getting into a lot of trouble for trying spice. That pretty much was all we needed to say.
One day at a time. That's what parenting is, anyway. Don't let your guard down. Be willing to do the work. Keep those lines of communication open. And take it one day at a time.