parents talking to kids about drugs and alcohol

As a parent, you want to help your child grow up to be safe, happy, and healthy. This includes protecting them from addiction and the dangers of substance use and misuse. While it’s never too early to start teaching your child the skills they need to make positive life choices and to stay away from drugs and alcohol, you’ll want to approach the conversation differently depending on their age.

To help you keep your child healthy and safe, here’s how to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol through every stage of development.

 2-4 years old

Parents can help their toddlers and preschool-aged children understand how to take care of their bodies and make healthy choices:

1. Talk about the importance of taking care of our bodies, including exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Be sure to model these behaviors as well.
2. Help your child avoid dangerous substances in their environment, such as cleaners and any medication that isn’t prescribed to them.
3. Allow your child to come up with solutions to problems, providing help as appropriate. This can boost their confidence and ability to navigate difficult or frustrating situations.

 5-8 years old

In the early elementary years, parents can discuss substance use more directly at an age-appropriate level, while also continuing to foster healthy habit-building:

4. Establish clear rules and expectations around substances, especially if you or other adults in the home drink or smoke. Explain that substances are especially dangerous for developing brains and bodies and that you don’t need cigarettes or alcohol to relax or have fun.
5. Talk to your child about substances, including the differences between medicinal use versus substance misuse, as well as what they see in the media. Keep discussions to the present and concrete.

 9-12 years old

Preteens tend to crave more independence from their families, while also holding their peers’ opinions in high esteem. Parents of preteens can help them understand how to avoid substance use and stay healthy:

6. Set (and enforce) clear rules and consequences. Children in households with established boundaries are less likely to engage in substance use.
7. Praise your child frequently. As this age often brings about feelings of insecurity and pressure, positive comments about your child’s personality and efforts can help them feel more self-assured.
8. Check in with your child’s friends and their parents, and ensure they are on the same page as you and your family regarding substance use.

 13-18 years old

The teen years are a crucial period for children and parents alike, especially as substance use becomes more prevalent. In addition to the above tips for preteens, keep in mind these additional prevention tips for teenagers:

9. Speak openly with your child about substance use, and draw from experiences in the real world. Listen to their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and answer any questions they have. However, you should always make it clear that you disapprove of underage substance use.
10. Take interest in your child’s life, and encourage them to come to you if they ever need to talk. This builds trust and opens lines of communication for productive conversation.

 19-25 years old

Though young adults are preparing for the “real world,” they still benefit from parental guidance during this period of transition. In addition to the above tips for teens, here’s how you can keep your college-age child safe and healthy:

11. If your child is attending college, be aware of the various drugs that can circulate on campus. While alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine are most commonly found, students may also be misusing prescription drugs.
12. Keep an eye on your child’s mental health. Make sure they (and you) are aware of mental health resources on campus or in the community and reassure them that you’re there to support them.

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