By Heather L. Ward, Coordinator of School and Family Programs
When thinking about elementary school, most people think about children learning their letters, numbers, and colors. It is a time of discovery for them, and they are sponges that absorb all the lessons being taught. This is the perfect time to start teaching substance use prevention messages, not only because children are learning so many things at this time, but also for the fact that children thrive when they have a clear consistent message about expectations throughout primary school.
Teachers, school administrators, and parents all play a part in helping youth grow up to be functioning members of society. The question "is it too early to have a substance use prevention message?" is raised sometimes, with the best, and only, answer being "NO."
Substance use prevention education should start well before a child makes it through the door for their first day of preschool. This may seem like something that would be out of their grasp of understanding, but at this age the prevention message starts with understand feelings and how to handle them. When a child understands his or her feelings and can deal with them appropriately, that child is on his or her way to the start of making healthy decisions for themselves.
Another way of thinking about this is to understand that early prevention helps children develop healthy coping skills, things they use to feel better about situations that seem out of their control. These are life- long skills that will carry them through many stressful, frustrating, upsetting situations. Healthy coping skills can allow children to be more independent and able to navigate any situation they encounter in school or off school grounds.
Benefits of Early Prevention Education
If children are taught socially acceptable ways to share their feelings and thoughts, as well as healthy coping techniques, they will be better equipped to self-regulate and handle situations life throws at them. Prevention education helps build confidence and self-esteem in youth, which is known to have a positive impact on a child's life. Feeling good about oneself and being confident in one's choices help build a solid foundation for keeping healthy choices prominent in one's life.
The question "Why is early prevention education important?" has many answers. The most important one I can think of is the fact that it lays the groundwork for a life-long journey of keeping one healthy and safe through making healthy decisions. This is something that needs to start early in a child's life, and with the help of parents and teachers, can only help youth to grow into happy and healthy adults. That is an outcome everyone can agree is important.