Conversations are one of the most powerful tools parents can use to connect with — and protect their kids. When tackling some of life’s tougher topics, especially about drugs and alcohol, just figuring out what to say can be a challenge. Here are some ideas:


Since the foundation for healthy habits — from nutrition to toothbrushing— is laid down during the preschool years, this is a great time to set the stage for a drug-free life.

Scenario: Giving your child a daily vitamin.

What to Say: Vitamins help you grow. You need to take them every day so you’ll grow up big and strong but yonly take what I give you. Too many vitamins can hurt you and make you sick.

Scenario: Your kids are curious about medicine bottles around the house.
What to Say: You should only take medicines that have your name on them or our doctor has chosen just for you. If you take medicine that belongs to somebody else, it could be dangerous.

Early Elementary (5-8 years old)

Five to eight year-olds are beginning to explore their individuality.

Scenario:  Your child has expressed curiosity about the pills they see you take every day — and the other bottles in the medicine cabinet
What to Say: Just because it’s in a family’s medicine cabinet doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to take.

Even if your friends say it’s okay, say, “No, my parents won’t let me take something that doesn’t have my name on the bottle.”

Talk about the drug-related messages they receive through advertisements, media and entertainment sources. Ask your kids how they feel about things they’ve heard — you’ll learn a great deal about what they’re thinking.

Keep your discussions about substances focused on the present — long-term consequences are too distant to have any meaning. Talk about the differences between the medicinal uses and illegal uses of drugs.

Set clear rules and explain the reasons for your rules. If you use tobacco or alcohol, be mindful of the message you are sending.

Work on problem solving: Help them find long-lasting solutions to homework trouble, a fight with a friend, or dealing with a bully.

Give your kids the power to escape from situations that make them feel bad. Make sure they know they shouldn’t stay in a place makes them feel uncomfortable or bad about themselves. Let them know they don’t need to stick with friends who don’t support them.

Preteen (9-12 year olds)

Preteens, on their quest to figure out their place in the world, tend to give their friends’ opinions a great deal of power, while at the same time starting to question their parents’ views and messages.

Scenario: Your child is starting middle school and you know that eventually, they might be offered drugs and alcohol.

What to Say: I know we talked about drinking and drugs when you were younger, but now is when they’re probably going to be an issue. I’m guessing you’ll at least hear about kids who are experimenting. I want you to remember the best thing you can do is just talk to me about the stuff you hear or see. Don’t think there’s anything I can’t handle or that you can’t talk about with me.”

Scenario: You find out kids are selling prescription drugs at your child’s school. Your child hasn’t mentioned it and you want to get the conversation about it started.

What to Say: You probably know parents talk to each other and find things out. I heard some kids are selling pills – prescriptions that either they are taking or someone in their family takes. Have you heard anything?”

Scenario: Your child’s favorite celebrity—the one they really look up to has been named in a drug scandal

What to Say: Being in the public eye puts pressure on people, and many turn to drugs because they think drugs will relieve stress. The thing is, when a person uses drugs and alcohol—especially a young person it changes how his brain works. Most people who use drugs and alcohol need help to get better.

Tips for Conversations with Your Preteen

Make sure your child knows your rules — and you’ll enforce the consequences if broken. Research shows kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear consequences.

Kids who don’t know what to say when someone offers them drugs are more likely to give in to peer pressure.

Feelings of insecurity, doubt and pressure may creep in during puberty. Offset those feelings with a lot of positive comments about who he is as an individual — and not just when he brings home an A.

Preteens aren’t concerned with future problems that might result from experimentation with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, but they are concerned about their appearance — sometimes to the point of obsession. Tell them about the smelly hair and ashtray breath caused by cigarettes.

Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Check in by phone or a visit once in awhile to make sure they are on the same page with prohibiting drug or

Make sure your teen knows your rules and the consequences for breaking them — and, most importantly, that you really will enforce those consequences if the rules are broken. Research shows kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules. Kids who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs.

Make it clear you disapprove of all alcohol, tobacco and drug use. As teens are extremely concerned with their physical appearance, remind your teen about the negative effects alcohol, tobacco and other drugs have on appearance.

Let your teen in on all the things you find wonderful about them. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in preventing drug use among teens.

Show interest in and discuss your child’s daily ups and downs. Learn how to talk to each other, and don’t take your child by surprise when you voice a strong point of view about drugs.

Don’t just leave your child’s anti-drug education up to their school. Ask what they have learned about drugs in school and build on that with topics, such as how and why chemical dependence occurs; the unpredictable nature of dependency and how it varies from person to person; the impact of drug use on maintaining a healthy lifestyle; or positive approaches to stress reduction.

Encourage your teen to volunteer somewhere that he can see the impact of drugs on your community. Teenagers tend to be idealistic and enjoy hearing about ways they can help make an impact.