Emotional regulation is a key to success for young people, many of whom are at great risk for developing anxiety, depression and mental disorders—factors that can lead to substance use and abuse.
“The most critical thing you can do for your child is to talk to them—about how much you love them, how their hard work and good choices will get them where they want to go, and how important they are to you,” says Dr. Shefali Gandhi, a licensed psychologist in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The messages get through and will help them feel tied to you in a way that will make using drugs and alcohol appear to be the bad choice it is.”
Because elementary school-age children are learning new things and ideas, it’s important to emphasize your family’s values, especially as it relates to substance use.
If this is the first conversation you are having with your child about it, begin by asking what they know and understand about substance use, abuse and addiction. Discuss health and wellness, and remind them that in order to nurture their mind and body in a healthy way, they should avoid things like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. Educate them about the negative effects these substances have on bodies, brains and their future.
Set family rules about drug use. Educate them about the messages they will see in the media about substance use. And, most importantly, teach your child to say no by helping them develop assertive communication skills.
Teach them how to deal with emotional distress by building your child’s toolbox with solid coping and problem-solving skills. Introduce them to mindfulness, a proven method of anxiety reduction and stress management. Teach them to curb negative thoughts they may have about themselves, school, family or friends. Help them understand that failure and frustration are part of life, and that failure should not stop them from trying again.
In addition, talk to them about problem-solving and being solution-focused in their decision making. Discuss action and consequence so they can start to see the link between their actions and the consequences they will deal with.