Children today are exposed to tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs at increasingly younger ages. The media is rife with images that promote smoking and drinking as "cool," fun, and a natural part of life. That's why, more than ever, parents need to talk to their kids about the perils of drugs and help them separate fact from fiction. But how do you get started?
According to experts, it's best to develop an ongoing dialogue with your child -- starting in the preschool years if possible -- and to look for spontaneous, everyday situations, or "teachable moments," in which to lay the groundwork for open, honest communication. The best news? Research shows that children who hear the facts about drugs and alcohol from their parents are significantly less likely to use them. Here's how to begin.Ages 3 to 5
During the preschool years, children have strong ties to their family and seek their parents' approval. This is a great time to teach kids about good nutrition, proper hygiene, and developing a healthy lifestyle. It's also a good time to help children develop the decision-making and problem-solving skills they'll need later in life. Between the ages of 3 and 5:
- Talk to your child about the joys of healthy living. Discuss how good she feels when she's eaten a nutritious meal, gotten enough rest, and taken care of her body. Talk about how a healthy child can run, jump, and play for hours on end.
- Allow your child to make some decisions. Whenever possible, let your child make simple choices, such as what to wear or what to have for lunch. Even if his clothes are slightly mismatched, or he asks for peanut butter and jelly yet again, it's important now to reinforce his ability to make decisions.
- Encourage your child to be responsible for her health and well-being. Turn chores such as brushing teeth, putting away toys, wiping up spills, and caring for pets into fun experiences your child will enjoy. Break down the activities into manageable steps so that she learns to develop plans and solve problems.
- Teach your child about dangerous substances in his environment. Point out poisonous substances in your home, such as bleach or kitchen cleansers, and read the product warning labels out loud to your child. Explain that harmful substances don't always come with such "warnings," and that your child should only ingest a food or prescribed medication that either you, a relative, or other known caregiver has given him.