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Substance Use

Helping Your Child Make Decisions about Substance Use

​At some point in their lives, most children will have to make decisions about substance use. Many parents don’t know when the right time is to talk to a child about substance use. But having this talk is important. It sets the stage for how you talk to your child about alcohol and other drug use. As their parent, you are the best judge of when your child is ready to talk about substance use and other important topics.​

Before you talk t​o your child

Here are some tips to help guide and prepare you for talks with your child about substance use:


When you listen closely and with respect, your child will feel more comfortable​ talking to you about tough decisions.

Don’t be afraid to talk about important issues like drug use​

The more you talk openly and honestly with your child, the easier it will be to talk about important issues. When you do this, your child is also more likely to come to you if they have a problem they need help with.​

Talk about how you make a decision

When you make important decisions that involve your child, talk about how you make the decision.

Use your own life experience to show understanding

Talking to your child about your own life experiences can help build trust and show understanding. For example, if you are trying to quit smoking or cut out caffeine, let them know that you are trying and that it’s hard to make these changes.

Let your child make choices

It’s important to let your child make choices that are right for their age. Explain what the outcomes (consequences) are if they make a poor decision. But also help them accept these consequences and learn from their mistakes when things go wrong.

Look for chances to talk about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

Help your child understand what they see on TV, online, in the news, and in social settings.

Be positive and encourage your child

There are many ways for you to have a good impact on the choices your child makes. Focus on your child’s strengths and interests, and give them support in areas where they are weak. Tell them when you notice they are trying to make better choices and decisions. This will boost their confidence and help them feel better about themselves.

Have rules and follow through with consequences

It’s important to have rules and make sure that your child understands them. Follow through with consequences if your child breaks a rule.

When you talk to your child

Use the following tips when you are ready to talk to your child.

Give specific examples and what they can do

When you talk about substance use, give your child examples of what may happen and what to do. For example, tell them what to do if someone offers them a cigarette or a beer.

Be clear about your own values

Talk to your child about your own values and limits but avoid statements like “All drugs are bad.” or threats such as “if I ever catch you drinking alcohol…” Kids often feel like they will live forever and nothing bad will happen to them. Scaring them doesn’t tend to work and threats may even encourage them to do what you don’t want them to do.

Talk about balance and choice

Tell your child that making choices about alcohol and other drugs can be a good way for them to practice making decisions about many life issues.

Decide what you want to share of your own experiences

If you have used drugs in the past, think about if you want to tell your child and how much you want to tell them before they ask. If you decide to tell them, use your experience to be specific, understanding, and share what you learned. This may also be a good time to talk about how drugs have changed. For example, cannabis can be many times stronger today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Be open and honest

Being open and honest with your child about the tough choices they may have to make is the best way to prepare them and help them make good decisions.

Excerpt from:Parent Information Series​, “Nurture It: Teaching Your Children the Truth about Drugs and Gambling”.

Current as of: September 27, 2018

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services