by Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
It’s not necessarily about how you handle one specific situation or the next, it’s more of a mindset, one that demonstrates intelligence, responsibility and character.
Mixed messages and being wishy-washy only leaves our children having to decide in each specific experience if it is ok or not.
Each parent has to decide what message they want to send their child about drugs.
1. You must live a life that is congruent with the things that you are telling your child. It doesn’t work to say, “Don’t be a smoker like me.” It doesn’t work to say, don’t take drugs and then make a family joke about how mommy (or daddy) can’t “deal” until their second cup of coffee.
2. Multigenerational back up. If you have parents or grandparents that are “old school” about not going to the doctor and not taking medication, encourage them to find ways to talk about this with your child. Alternatively, you can talk with your child about how Grandpa never goes to the doctor and never takes medicine.
3. If you are going to partake recreationally and/or to excess– hide it for as long as possible. Give your children the gift of being able to tell their friends, “I didn’t grow up being exposed to drugs and alcohol.” “My mom (dad) doesn’t……”
4. When your child gets a fever, reach for the cold compresses, lavender pillows, favorite movie, blanket and pillow. Teach your child that there are things they can do when they feel miserable with illness besides take medicine. Give them opportunities to practice this. If they are due for their dose of children’s Tylenol or cough medicine at 6 pm, teach them that it will serve them much better if they take it right before going to bed. No one promised any of us a life without suffering. Teach them that they can get through the difficult 2 hours.
5. Explain that each of us have been given a body that is leap years beyond any machine that humans have designed. Teach them that their uncomfortable fever is doing an important job. Teach them that their body works in miraculous ways every minute of every day to keep the constant bombardment of germs and toxins from making them sick.
6. Be wise about reaching for antibiotics and do the research on antibacterial hand lotion. Do not withhold medicine from your child when they are sick. I myself am guilty of waiting too long to go to the doctor and ending up with a respiratory infection that was much too hard to cure. But be careful about sending a message that the going to the doctor is the answer.
7. Consider behavioral, sensory and emotional intervention and seek professional support extensively prior to any trial of medication, ESPECIALLY with children. Despite how these meds are being promoted, there really are not conclusive longitudinal studies available yet with many of them. But aside from that, there are alternatives. Seek them thoroughly. I have already seen the shift with countless teens and adults who wholeheartedly believe that there is something wrong with their biology and they need meds. Children who get the message early on that their mood and focus needs to be altered chemically are set up for challenges later on.
8. Whether a child is physically sick or emotionally distraught, look to the FIVE senses. The changes that happen in the brain when we smell a sent that is beautiful to us, or touch something that feels wonderful, or listen to something that sounds heavenly are well documented. Teach your child to “change their state with their senses.
9. How many ways can you think of to have fun? When we teach children about good, healthy entertainment, they have a much better chance of becoming teens that seek good, healthy entertainment. Children that experience entertainment through video games and TV will be more likely to expect to receive this passive entertainment.
10. Be careful of the attitude, “everyone is doing it.” Whether we are talking about meds for our “ADHD” child or marijuana smoking for our 15 year old, everyone is NOT doing it, and neither does your child have to.
11. Even though your child might be 16, you still have the right to have expectations and set limits. They want to get their license? You are perfectly within your rights to go to CVS and buy the drug testing kit. IF they test positive, then NO, they should not be driving and you should NOT be signing their application for their driver’s license. If they have their license already and are testing positive, yes, you can take away the car keys, until they test negative, even if it’s their car. Your job as parent isn’t done yet and they do have to follow your expectations, if you actually expect them to.
12. Talk to them. Does your child seem “off?” Keep the dialog open. Maybe this is a little off topic, but I will never forget this experience. I was working for DCF (formerly DSS) and sitting at the kitchen table with a mom that was reported for being passed out intoxicated while caring for her children. She was sober when I was with her at her. Her daughter (elementary age) got off the bus and came in the house sad. Her mom lovingly asked how her day was and since she looked sad, asked if she was ok. The young girl opened up about how she had been teased on the bus. Her mom sincerely said, “I’m so sorry that happened.” She gave her daughter a hug and asked her to tell her about it. The girl opened up. ~That’s an anti-drug campaign right there! Teach a child to open up and share their feelings. Give them the time and space and attention to let them know that you really care. The mom didn’t need to fix it for her. She needed to validate her feelings. A job well done by a mom who was drowning her own feelings in the bottle.
13. Do everything possible to keep your marriage strong. The research is clear that children of divorce are more vulnerable to difficulties with drugs and alcohol.
14. Keep all medication secure. People are robbing houses to get to meds. Teens and even children are looking in their parents/friend’s parents medicine cabinet for drugs. Consider WHICH meds your feel need to be secured and secure them. Buy an “ammo can” or other suitable, lockable case. But furthermore, tuck it away in a closet somewhere that the kids won’t even be asking, “What’s in that box?” Not that I’m generally classifying these things together, but use the box for other things that the children should not have access to; sex toys, “adult” movies and video games, books, etc. Don’t create a situation for yourself where you have to explain.
15. Set a pattern of family dinners and keep them going. Studies show that children that experience pleasant meals and interaction during family dinners are less likely to use drugs and alcohol (or engage in sex).
16. Know your kids friends and their parents. Make it clear to other parents, “You see my kid doing the wrong thing, I want to know about it!” A wise friend once said, “I don’t expect that my kids aren’t going to do the wrong thing, I just pray that they get caught quickly.”
17. I’m going to throw up! Teach your child that they always have your permission to stand up for what is right, but that sometimes it is hard. If they find themselves in one of those hard spots and don’t know how to get out of it, tell them that it is one of the only times they have your permission to lie. Tell their friends, “I don’t feel so good. I think I’m going to throw up. I better call my mom/dad.”
18. Get your child involved in Scouting. Studies show that youth who are or once were involved in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts are less likely to use drugs and alcohol than their peers who were not involved.
19. Keep the dialog going. Start early talking to your children about their amazing brain and their amazing body. Encourage them to take good care of it. From the fact that they get practice teeth and for the rest of their life teeth, to the foods on their plate, the number of jumping jacks they can do and the academic progress they are making…praise them and praise their body and mind.
20. It will never lead to something good. When examples present themselves, as they will, of the destructive effects of drugs and alcohol, use them as opportunities for straightforward discussions. It’s not good to be wishy-washy OR silent on these matters that we know our children are witnessing.
I hope you have taken at least a couple of things from this list of 20 that you can focus on and use more actively. You may have more ideas. Please post them for all of us here.
If I can be of any assistance with issues like this in your life, please contact me. As I said in my last post, I am not anti meds for children. But I will say, I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve as alternatives to meds. I have helped a great many families stabilize difficult behavioral and emotional symptoms over just a 6 week period.
****I am not a physician or medical professional. None of the advice here should be construed as medical advice or take the place of a visit to your doctor where called for.
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