Help Your Children Stay Drug-Free


Parents play a variety of roles in helping their children lead drug free lives. Parents who are willing to look closely-at their own alcohol and other drug use, become knowledgeable about substance abuse, and make living a drug-free lifestyle a significant child rearing goal can and do make a difference in their children's lives.


One of the prevention roles you can play for your children is the model you provide around your own use of chemicals, including prescription drugs. Check to see if you're consistent in your attitudes about drug-influenced behavior. For example, many parents are outraged about driving intoxicated, but laugh at drunken behavior in a TV sitcom.


Because a primary purpose of substance use is altering emotions, your kids need to know that having emotions is normal, not wrong or scary, and learn how to express their feelings appropriately. You can model the expression of feelings with "I" statements about how another person's behavior effects you. A parent might say "When I find fingerprints on the glass I've just cleaned, I feel discouraged because it has to be cleaned again." Without blaming the child, the parent is able to communicate his or her feelings about the consequences of the child's behavior.


You can also use reflective listening to teach your children how to express their feelings. Statements such as "You feel sad because your friend-is sick and can't play with you," and "sounds like you're frustrated because I won't let you do that" demonstrate your understanding of the child's feelings and the circumstances that cause them. Because young children don't always connect their actions with their feelings, you facilitate this developmental process when you listen and reflect your understanding. Using or not using chemicals is a decision. You can teach decision making throughout your children's lives by allowing them to make choices consistent with their age. Begin with low risk choices, such as "Do you want an egg or cereal for breakfast?" and allow your child to experience the positive or negative consequences of each decision.


You also teach decision making when you involve your children in problem solving. After demonstrating your understanding of your child's feelings with reflective listening, brainstorm alternatives by soliciting all of your child's ideas without evaluating them. Then help your child evaluate the ideas generated and examine the likely consequences of each choice. Once your child chooses a solution, your responsibility is to ask him or her to commit to following through on the decision and to initiate a plan for evaluating the success of the decision. This ability to make decisions not only builds children's self-esteem, but also gives them a sense of mastery and trust in their capacity to make good decisions. Children learn by listening and watching. What parents say is as important as what they do. Talk to your children about the health risks of abusing chemicals. Point out how abusing substances can bring harm to the user and other people. Discuss how dangerous it is to engage in sports or drive while under the influence of a mood-altering drug. Talk about how drinking is illegal for anyone under 21.


Families where this information is transmitted successfully have distinct characteristics. First, because the parents model the behavior of no use or responsible use they talk about, children in these families believe the messages are meaningful. Second, the children perceive themselves as having

appropriate decision-making power in their families. They know that a drug-free life brings intrinsic value like pride and self-discipline and extrinsic rewards like good grades and avoiding hangovers. Finally, these families give their young members constant affirmations by

 spending time together evaluating themselves as a family and each other as individuals. By setting an example and reinforcing beliefs that foster healthy attitudes about chemicals, you can help your children choose a drug- free lifestyle.



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©2010 Integra Counseling Services
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Contact Dr. Zimmerman at or 715.386.9011