Helping Your Kids Stay Alcohol-Free
By Jim Burns
No parent wants their kids to experience the consequences of alcohol abuse. One of the most effective ways to apply “preventative maintenance” – helping to keep your kids away from alcohol is through talking. Begin an alcohol conversation with your kids and keep it going.
Learn about alcohol. Learn what it does to the body. Learn why kids experiment with alcohol. Learn why they evolve to using more frequently and then habitually. There are plenty of easily accessible resources available.
Share alcohol information with your kids. Talk about it! Don’t assume that your kids are learning everything they need to know in school. You have more influence on your kids than a teacher does. Start early on, sharing age-appropriate information with your kids. This will become a topic your kids just assume is part of regular family discussion.
Listen. A key part of good communication is listening. Be sure you don’t simply lecture your kids about alcohol use. Engage in discussion with your kids and really listen for what your kids are telling you about the issues. If you listen, you will learn about your kids’ attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and challenges regarding alcohol use.
Be open. Your kids will likely want to know if you used alcohol when you were a kid. Be prepared on how you will answer this question. You don’t have to share all of your dirty laundry (if you have some) but don’t lie about your past, either. If you used alcohol in your youth, share appropriately why you believe it was a mistake and what you’ve learned from your experience as a result.
Help your kids learn how to say no to alcohol use. Role-play various situations with your kids. I call this the “Just say No” Game”. The object of the game is to role play responses to high-pressure situations in such a way that those applying pressure will back off. Try to come up with several creative ways to say no.
Some examples of situations:
1. Your older brother and his friend pick you up from a party, and his friend offers you a cold beer for the trip home.
2. At a party, the group gets into the parents’ liquor cabinet. Everyone starts drinking out of the bottle of vodka. It is offered to you.
3. On a drive home from school, one of the people you considered to be a friend pulls out a bottle of champagne and pops the cork, asking you to drink up.
4. Your friend’s dad is offering all of the kids at the party a beer to loosen up.
Be a good role model regarding alcohol use. Evaluate you own attitudes and behaviors regarding this issue for what they are teaching your kids. If you use or abuse alcohol, your kids will pick up on it. Do you laugh at drunken behavior when you see it shown on television or in movies? What message does this send to your kids? Be careful, you may be sending messages that you don’t intend to send. Your kids are watching you.
Develop a family policy on alcohol use. Be sure to include your kids in this process. Make decisions about specific behaviors and their consequences. Parents’ behaviors and consequences should be included as well. Remember, this is a family policy. Then, be firm, maintaining these standards and consequences.
Make sure you are affirming your kids on a regular basis. One of the reasons kids experiment with alcohol is because of their strong desire to fit in with other adolescents and/or because of low self-esteem issues. Kids with a strong self-image are less likely to use alcohol. You can help build a healthy self-esteem in your child by giving them regular, meaningful affirmations.
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