Drugs. For most parents, this word and the idea of what it represents, evokes fear, anxiety and the unknown. If you have a child between the ages of 8 and 13, you may even feel that you’re staring down the tracks of a freight train plowing, headlights first, into you. Maybe you don’t know what to expect, how to start the conversation with your child, or you simply don’t want to have the conversation at all. If you’re like many, you may even be thinking, “Not me. I’m a good, involved mom (or dad). That won’t happen to me. “ Denial.
Tonight, thanks to Jen Levinson's hard work, I attended Down and Dirty’s first community-wide sponsored event. Generously hosted by the Canyon Club, Down and Dirty aimed to educate the attendees on this growing epidemic. Drugs are sweeping through our homes, schools, clubs, religious affiliations and the social events that we send our children to, thinking they’re safe. This affects us all. We cannot ignore this problem.
The information given and subsequent panel discussion was poignant and heart breaking. The panel included Doctors, survivors, parents, counselors, recovering addicts and law enforcement officers. While their stories were honest and riveting, what I found most interesting were the questions from the community, the attendees.
What parents most want to understand is, what can I say to my child(ren) to make them understand the affects of drugs? How can I stop it? What tools can I use and/or give to my child? To this, the panel said, “Communicate.” “Pay attention”, “Know who their friends are and what they’re doing at all times.” Realistic? I’m not sure.
When the topic of “Coping Skills” came up and was further addressed, the crowd held their breath. Parents want answers. How can we help our children? What can we tell them to make them understand the consequences of dulling their emotional pain with drugs? Coping skills. These are a necessity for children to have in their own toolbox as they enter into adolescence and travel further into young adulthood.
Wanting to use drugs and needing Emotional Relief, go hand in hand. If we want to keep our children away from drugs, we need to teach them how to manage their emotions, give them strategies to relieve their strongest feelings, teach them how to understand and push through a storm of anxiety. And this needs to start when they’re young. A child’s brain is not emotionally mature until they are well into their twenties. This means that if you, the parent, don’t offer some serious “life education”, I can assure you that your child will make some potentially dangerous and misguided decisions along the way.
Here is what I can tell you and why I know it to be true. Your children, our children…they need more than for you to communicate. It’s how you talk to them, when you choose to do it, the words you pick to convey your message and the tone of your voice. And they need more than a conversation…that’s a great start, don’t get me wrong. But believe it or not, your children are silently begging for the tools to use themselves. So, in addition to talking to them about drugs, you need to give them concrete tools that they can use to help them cope, self-soothe, communicate and stand up for their own bodies and social and emotional mental health.
I like to think of “Coping Skills” as the tools that you teach your children to self-soothe. Learning to self-soothe is learning to turn down the volume on their really big emotions so that they don't become roadblocks in their day. Emotions are never going to go away and YOU DON'T WANT THEM TO. You, the parent, need to teach your children how to handle their emotions in a developmentally-mature way so that they become an asset and not a liability. Below are some ideas to get you started.
Journaling and Companion Journaling – If you have a child that likes to write, encourage them to spend 10 minutes before bedtime writing about their day. Sure, they can chat with their friends on Snapchat or share pictures on Instagram but there is a unique cognitive growth process that happens when we put pen to paper. If you like to write, I encourage you to journal at the same time and then share your daily thoughts. Often writing brings out thoughts, feelings, anxieties that you or your children didn’t know were even present until written down…this is also a very organic way to start a conversation about something new.
Time Out for Breathing – Children often get overwhelmed or sensory stimulated. Suggesting a moment (or two) to put yourself in a personal time out and breathe is a great way to stop the “noise” and re-focus on the present, whether it’s a school task, dealing with a social issue or just needing some quiet moments. Sit down in a quiet spot, crossing your legs, close your eyes and breathe. Listen to your breath – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count backwards from 100 and refreshed you’ll feel, I promise.
Walking – Get outside and go for a walk, together. The idea is that you change the environment that you’re typically in. When walking together, you have a targeted window of opportunity with an audience (i.e.: your child) that isn’t going anywhere and is completely tuned into you. Nice chance for a chat, eh? Share honest stories of how you felt growing up. Let your child know that they are not alone.
Bedtime talks – Once the lights are off and the voices are quiet, the bodies naturally calm down. Using a neutral voice, this is the best time to get the ins and outs of your child’s day. Asking open-ended questions will give you an organic entrée into the day in the life of your child.
Sticky notes – If you’re child is social and already going out, a great (and cheeky) way to communicate is via sticky notes. You can place them on their bedroom door, bathroom mirror, soles of their shoes, front pocket on their back pack…any place that you know they’ll be seen. It’s a good way to get your message across without being the nagging parent and it gets your kids to think about their responsibilities. “I heard you came in late. I hope you had fun. Can’t wait to hear about it in the AM.” Or “Don’t forget that you need to take care of ______________. This is your responsibility and I don’t want to have to remind you in the AM.” No nagging ‘cause it’s all on paper.
Elevating your senses – When feeling overwhelmed, the sense of smell has been proven to calm heightened emotions, quickly and naturally. Take your children for a trip down the aromatics aisle and pick a scent or two that they love. Incorporate the scent into candles, showers, massages. In my home, we love lavender, mint and eucalyptus. When my girls are excited or over-tired, a few drops of lavender really changes the mood.
Posting responsibilities and creating consequences – Starting as early as 6 years old, children should have responsibilities for being part of a family. Figure out what those are; post them in a public spot and stick to them. Skipping responsibilities = consequences.
Family meetings – Consistent meetings where family members are held accountable for decisions, goals, and helping each other, couldn’t be more important. It mimics what real-life work places look like and gives every member of the family a safe outlet for discussion of all things, family-related. It also provides familial support from those that love us unconditionally.
Talking the talk and walking the walk – Everyone knows that communication is key but the question is when do we start? EARLY! In most cases, the earlier, the better. This doesn’t mean that you’re telling your 8yo what cocaine is but it does mean that you have organic conversations about Drug and Substance abuse when they ask you questions. Don’t shy away from them and don’t be scared to be the giver of information. After all, I guarantee that if they don’t get it from you, they’ll find a way to get it when they want it.
Teach your kids it’s okay to “fail”, have an “off day”, or not be “the best” at something. Why would you want to teach this? Because it gives your child an opportunity to build their backbone, deal with disappointment and see that they can rise from it. The feeling that they will get, from recovery (ON THEIR OWN), will teach them more about resilience (in that one moment), than you could convey in 25 conversations about perseverance.
I meet with Tweens and Teens regularly, in Social and Emotional Support Groups, where we discuss any and all important issues that they feel they’re dealing with. My biggest take-aways are two-fold. First, our children want us to be their parents. They don’t want us to be fearful of setting limits and imposing these boundaries on them, even when they push back. Second, they want to be able to talk to us. They have questions and concerns…great questions and huge concerns. Growing up is hard today and they want, NEED, our guidance. Let’s be there for them so they don’t turn to a friend when they need us, their parents, most.
If you’re interested in learning more about these Support Groups (Crimson Club) or signing your child up, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.intuitparenting.com
Stay tuned for Drugs, part 2: "Talking the Talk" with your Tween (How and when to start talking about DRUGS in your home)