April is Alcohol Responsibility month, and the perfect time to start a dialog with your children around underage drinking.
Fostering conversations with kids around important topics……I get it, this may be new…..but I promise, it's easier than you think! These? Are tips from this former teacher about how to prepare for ongoing dialog around important topics and healthy conversations with your children.
Here we go. You're in THAT stage. Your child is old enough to start asking question, to reflect on the behavior of their peers and the adults around them and…….the time has come. The big conversations with kids time. From the birds and the bees to how your body works to underage drinking and substance use…..there are a LOT of topics that are going to come up and topics that your family will need to address.
I get it. This is…..new. You don't know what to say. You don't want to scare your child. You don't want to say the wrong thing. You don't want to make it uncomfortable. You want them to know they can COME to you. That you'll be a support as they grow up and as more and more of these topics became a part of their lives. The good news? There is no perfect way to do this. The most perfect thing you can do as a parent? Is to show up and be in ongoing dialog with your children.
April is Alcohol Responsibility month, so this is the PERFECT time to start this conversation. And we know that when conversations about alcohol go up, underage drinking goes down……so let's get the ball rolling!
Ongoing Conversations with Kids: Underage Drinking
Let's talk about underage drinking. Trust me, this is going to come up earlier than you anticipate. Having taught upper elementary school for years, I can tell you that by third or fourth grade…..children are VERY aware of behaviors around drinking and under age drinking can be a concern.
So what do we know?
Conversations among parents and kids about underage drinking have increased 73 percent since 2003. (Responsibility.org, Toluna, August 2016)
Forty-six percent of parents say they need information on the health effects of underage drinking to continue to have meaningful conversations about underage drinking. (Toluna, August 2016)
Sixty-four percent of 10-18 year olds report their parents as the leading influence in their decision about drinking or not drinking alcohol. (Toluna, August 2016)
You, the parent and adult role model……are the most important influence in your child's life. Including when it comes to underage drinking. So let's talk about HOW to open the lines of communication. Our goal? To approach conversations with kids as…..CONVERSATIONS. This isn't a lecture. This isn't a scare them straight situation (that's not effective anyways). This is an……I'm here to support you, your health, and your well being conversation. This is a……I will always be here to have ongoing conversations with you conversation. It's an opportunity to be human, imperfect, and loving with your kids. And I promise, it's not as scary as you're imagining (whatever the topic). In fact, this is an amazing time to strengthen your relationship with your child on a whole new level.
A Few Tips for Ongoing Conversations with Kids
Set a Time and Topic in Advance: This shouldn't be a surprise or an ambush. Let your child know that you'd like to talk about underage drinking and any questions they have. This gives THEM a chance to think about anything they'd like to ask. You're framing this as a dialog, not a lecture. Teacher tip: have a not super expressive child? Make a question jar and set index cards next to it. Let them know that any questions they have about the topic, they can put in the jar in advance. That way YOU will have the chance to gather information. You're setting the precedent that you want to be prepared as a support to them.
Be Prepared with Facts and Resources: You aren't an expert. And you aren't supposed to be. Insider info: teachers aren't experts at everything they teach. We're just great researchers and sharers of experts. Especially when you're looking at a topic LIKE underage drinking……science is key. Facts are key. Instead of focusing on empty threats or scare tactics…..help your children to understand the effect that underage drinking has on their brain development and overall health and well being. Teacher tip: Ask, Listen, Learn is an amazing resource developed by the team at Responsibility.org and a team of educators and organizations specializing in elementary- and middle schoolers. It's a free digital curriculum and resource library that is science- and evidence-based and specifically age appropriate for kids in grades 4-7. Their site will provide you with facts, data, and even has REALLY cool videos for kids all about brain development and the different parts of the brain. It's a GREAT jumping off point for hard conversations with kids (and teachers, there is a section for you too!)
It's Ok to NOT Know All the Answers: As adults, we often feel that we need know EVERYTHING about a topic like this. We don't. In fact, there is serious power in admitting that you DON'T know all the answers to your children. You are human. So if they ask something you don't know? “I'm not sure, but I'm going to do some research so that we can learn about this together.” It's as simple as that.
Set Expectations for Ongoing Dialog: Any conversations around these topics with kids aren't going to be a one time chat. As our children get older, and are exposed to more and more…..these topics will become an ongoing dialog. Let your child know that your family will be in conversation about this regularly. Set a date to come back together to discuss any new information you find or any questions they have……and let them know they can also bring this up ANYTIME.
How Can Your Child Signal They Would Like Another Conversation or Have an Issue: But what if your child has questions or concerns BEFORE that next talk or check in? How can they tell you? As much as we'd all like our children to just…..bring up these topics…..they may not. So my suggestion? A signal. It can be as simple as them adding it to the calendar in the kitchen, them flipping a magnet over that's been selected together, or them taking an umbrella out of the closet. Whatever that non-verbal signal is? Everyone in the family knows that is their way to call a family meeting. And that question jar we talked about? Keep it out. Trust me, the questions will keep showing up in there.
Are you feeling ready for ongoing conversations with kids in your family? The good news? The most important part of those conversations? You trying. And your children knowing that you are OPEN to supporting them. Imperfect parents and humans love their children perfectly….by showing up and doing our best.