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Talking to your child about alcohol or drugs is not self-evident. When is the best time to start? And how do you go about it

Start the conversation in time

Alcohol: Don’t wait until your child is confronted with alcohol to talk about it. The transition from primary to secondary education is a good time. This is a period of great change for your child. A party where alcohol is consumed, for example, is a good opportunity to talk about it.

Drugs: It is also best to start talking about drugs before your child comes into contact with them. Ten-year-olds are still too young for this; wait until drugs enter your child’s world. Research shows that the pivotal age for starting to use cannabis is 15-16 years. Your child’s environment can be a good place to start talking about it. For example, rumours about cannabis use in the youth centre, a classmate who was caught…

Talking about substance (ab)use : how and when?

A good conversation now and then

This is better than returning to the subject too often. Talking about it too often is more like nagging and will miss its effect.

A suitable time and place

A good timing of the conversation helps. Don’t talk when your child has other things on his mind or when there is a fight. Choose a time when you are both calm and your child seems open to a conversation. It is a good idea to have a conversation while you are doing something together (e.g. doing the dishes or riding in the car). This can make the conversation more casual.

Pause in time

If you or your child get angry during the conversation, it’s best to stop.

Leave the door ajar

A one-sided sermon usually does not get through. If talking doesn’t work, don’t force anything. Show that you are always willing to talk. It is important that your child knows that he or she can come to you.

Believe in yourself

Knowing more about alcohol and drugs can help, but you do not have to be an expert to start a conversation. The important thing is that you look for answers together. Your opinion really does count for your child. Good information does make it easier to explain why you set certain limits. In the Drugs ABC, you will find information about the effects, risks and effects of each product.

The content of the conversation is best left to you, honest and straightforward. However, you can take into account some tips that will make the conversation go as smoothly as possible.

Talk about your feelings, your concerns and your point of view. Calmly express your opinion on the subject. If your child is under 16, make it clear that you do not want them to drink alcohol. When talking about drugs, state that you do not want your child to use them.

Talking is also listening

Ask your child what he/she thinks about alcohol or drugs and leave room for his/her reaction and opinion. Try to listen calmly to what your son or daughter has to say and be curious. It may not be easy, but let him or her tell his or her story first before you give your own opinion and view on things.

Speak in the first person

Talking in the first person seems less accusatory. Your child will then probably be more open to your point of view and expectations. For example: “I want you to behave when you go out” is less confrontational than “You can never control yourself!

Focus on ‘now’, not later

Horror stories and dramatic arguments, such as the risk of future health or dependency problems, usually make little impression. Young people look at life from a here-and-now point of view and do not think about ‘later’. It makes sense to talk about short-term risks and disadvantages, the impact on the child’s life as it is now.

Genuineness, openness, honesty

Be open and honest with your children. Express your feelings about what your child says or about what has happened. In this way, young people learn to be open to different perspectives and learn to think critically. Also, be honest about the good aspects of alcohol and drugs, don’t avoid them. Point out that they always entail risks for young people. Even more so when they use it a lot or often.

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