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Youth Substance Use: Information for Parents

Being a Role Model

There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Being a parent is a very hard job. It’s a special joy to raise a child, but it can be demanding, tiring, and full of challenges. When you’re a parent, there’s no time off.

Every parent has good days and bad days. But every day, you are a role model for your child. From the time your child is a baby, they watch and learn from you. Your child learns from what you do and what you say. Your child often shares the same thoughts and feelings about things that you do. They even copy how you act and what you say. Before your child goes to school, they have learned more from you than you ever tried to teach them.

Do I need to worry about being a role model?

One of the most important jobs as a parent is being a good role model. Your child will grow up and have to make grown-up choices. If you make healthy choices, including those on substance use, there is a good chance that your child will follow your example. If you control your temper and treat others well, your child will likely copy that behaviour.

Are other people role models for my child?

Anyone who spends quality time with your child is a role model. This may include:

  • grandparents
  • aunts and uncles
  • friends
  • teachers
  • coaches
  • neighbours

The more examples of a good role model that your child has to learn from, the better. Having an adult who cares about a child makes a big difference. Even when a child’s life is hard or there is conflict, having one person who cares and supports them has an impact. If there is someone who your child can always depend on, they will be better able to get through tough times.

Even though anyone can be a role model, parents and main caregivers have the biggest impact on a child. Even when your child is a teen and doesn’t seem to listen or be interested, you’re still a role model.

How can I be a good role model?

Think about how your behaviour affects your child. Being a good role model doesn’t mean you always have to be calm and cheerful. It’s important that children see their parents express real feelings in a healthy way.

  • If your child sees you handle your anger in an appropriate way, they will learn from you.
  • If your child watches you celebrate special occasions without alcohol, they will learn to do the same.
  • If your child sees you manage hard times without using substances, they will learn other ways to help them manage.

As your child grows up, they learn how to behave through you. It’s not easy being a role model. But as every parent or caregiver is a role model, it’s something important to think about.

What if I make mistakes that I don’t want my child to copy?

It’s normal to make mistakes along the way so it’s important to talk to your child about it. You can still be honest with your child without sharing all details of adult problems.

If there are problems in your family, even a young child can be affected. A child often believes:

  • they caused the problem
  • the problem is worse because of something they did wrong

Tell your child that you love them and that your problems are not their fault.

How can I teach my child about other positive role models?

Talk to your child about things that happened to you when you were their age. Tell your child about someone who made a difference in your life and why. This could be someone who is part of your child’s life or someone your child doesn’t know.

You can also tell your child about a family member or friend who showed courage, kindness, humour, or worked hard to get past an issue in their life. Tell them who your role models are now that you’re an adult. Who do you admire and why?

This will help your child understand that different people behave in different ways. Your child might start to think about who makes a good role model.


It’s always interesting to see ourselves the way others see us. Role-play can be a fun way for you and your child to explore how to express anger and disappointment. Remember to include as many of your child’s good qualities as you can when you play the role of your child. Here are some ideas to help you role-play.

Tell your child about a time when you were mad, such as a conflict with another adult or a fight with your children.

  • Ask your child to pretend to be you.
  • Watch and listen carefully to what your child says and does.
  • Talk about what you can do to handle something like this better if it happens again.

Make up a situation and ask your child to role-play how they would react. This could be not going to the park as promised because of bad weather.

  • Ask your child how someone their age or younger would act.
  • A younger child might have a tantrum. An older child is old enough to know the weather isn’t your fault and would act more mature.

Let your child make up a situation for you to role-play.

  • This could be an adult or a child’s role.
  • You might play yourself when you can’t find your keys and are late for work.
  • You could play the child’s role when it’s time for bed and you want to watch one more TV show.

Role-playing can be fun for both of you. After you role-play, talk about different ways you both can deal with hard times.

Learning from others

Talk with your child about different ways to handle celebrations, anger, and being disappointed. Talk about how someone who is a role model to both of you may handle a situation and how someone who doesn’t have the skills to handle the situation may handle it.

Look at actors or sports figures and how they behave. Talk with your child about what makes a good winner, a good loser, a poor winner, and a poor loser.

When you see people you don’t know in public that are kind and considerate, talk about this with your child. When you see people behaving poorly, talk about this too.

Talk about different behaviours with your child and encourage them to tell others when they show good behaviour.

More information

Alberta Health Services offers many addiction and mental health services to help you, your child, and your family, including:

  • information and prevention programs
  • group and family counseling
  • outpatient and residential treatment
  • the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program (PChAD)

For more information or to find services near you, call Health Link at 811.

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