There is no better time than now to begin honest and meaningful conversations about substance use with your kids
The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult time for everyone.
Parents are feeling the pressure, young kids may feel the stress of having to occupy themselves while their parents work at home, teens miss socializing with friends, and many high school and college students are facing a lot of uncertainty with their academic aspirations or career plans.
It is important for everyone in the family to be able to express their feelings, emotions, and questions with someone they trust. The bottom line for parents is to support their children and encourage them to use healthy coping methods during this challenging time.
According to Linda Richter, Ph.D., Director of Prevention Research and Analysis, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (USA), it’s helpful to:
- Acknowledge and have compassion for children’s frustrations, disappointments, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, and stress during this time.
- Keep the lines of communication open, but respect their need for alone time and privacy.
- Maintain some sort of structure and daily schedule.
- Eat meals with your children as frequently as possible – this allows you to monitor your child’s mental and physical state, but also share experiences, stories, concerns and laughs.
- Keep meals and other family activities as phone and distraction-free as possible.
- Take an interest in your children’s interests and take their concerns seriously.
While we’re adjusting to these challenging times, it’s very helpful to remember the positive role that you can play in protecting your child from using substances as a way to cope with their stress.
Try to model a healthy approach to your own substance use and have informed conversations with your kids about the negative effects of excessive substance use on physical and mental health.
- Always come from a place of love, even if the talk gets tough. Remember everyone is feeling some tension these days, and being open, honest and compassionate will help your child feel safe.
- Answer their questions about what’s happening now. It isn’t necessary to go into detail about the virus but try to gauge what would be appropriate for your child’s age and emotional development.
- Be honest. Share your own concerns and let your children know that this is something that nobody in your family has experienced.
- Be hopeful. Go over ‘physical distancing’ and other recommendations from trusted medical professionals. Explain that you will get through this together if you all follow the rules.
- Limit the media. Depending on the ages of your children, it might be advisable to keep them away from the plethora of media that circulates every hour. Most children do not need to know the number of daily cases or deaths during the pandemic. If they are older, it might be helpful to focus on the number of recoveries instead of deaths.
- Create Strategies to Cope. Brainstorm together appropriate strategies for managing stress, anxiety and depression. Encourage them to pursue the activities that make them feel good. Remind your older kids that turning to alcohol or other drugs is not a healthy solution to cope with stress, and that substance use can affect their immune systems and overall health. Get more ideas on how to help your kids manage their stress here.
- Focus on family time. Engage in games, digital technology connections, creative endeavors, etc, together. Here are a few suggestions for positive and healthy ways to help your family alleviate stressful feelings.
- Have ongoing age-appropriate conversations. Be clear about how you feel about substance use in your family. Get a variety of scenarios and scripts for every age group from The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (USA) Get prevention tips for all ages