It may seem premature to talk about using drugs with preschoolers, however the attitudes and habits they form at this age will have an important bearing on the decisions they will make regarding alcohol use and underage drinking when they are older.
At this age, children are eager to know and memorize rules, and they want your opinion on what's "bad" and what's “good." Although they are old enough to understand for example, smoking is bad for them, generally they are not ready to take in complex facts about alcohol, tobacco, and using drugs. Nevertheless, this is an ideal age to introduce and discuss your family values regarding healthy behaviors whenever the opportunity arises. This can be done by not only role modeling healthy behaviors, but encouraging our children to engage in these activities.
Encourage healthy eating and living
Encourage healthy eating and talk to your child about the joys of healthy living.
Part of drug-resistance education is learning to put healthy substances into our bodies. Provide your child with healthy food choices and let your child see you living a healthy lifestyle. Take advantage of everyday teachable moments and provide opportunities for your child to experience healthy living. When grocery shopping, allow your child to select healthy foods, observe you reading food labels (know what you are putting into your body), help prepare meals, or let them grow some garden vegetables.
Discuss how good you feel when you take care of yourself — how you can run, jump, play and work for many hours. A great conversation starter: "I'm glad I'm healthy because I can.." or "Vegetables make you grow strong.."
Avoid dangerous substances in your child's world
Help your child steer clear of dangerous substances that exist in his/her immediate world.
Teach your child the difference between poison, medicine, and food. Point out poisonous and harmful chemicals commonly found in homes, such as bleach, kitchen cleansers and furniture polish. Read the products' warning labels out loud to your child. Explain that medicines can help you feel better but can also hurt you and that drugs from the doctor help the person the doctor gives them to but that they can harm someone else. Medicine for children is often fruit-flavored, just like candy, so it is important to teach your child the difference…that medicine is different from candy or food even if it tastes like cherries or grapes. Explain that s/he should only eat or smell food or take a prescribed medicine that Mom or Dad, a relative, or other known caregivers and trusted adults give to them.
Giving your child a daily vitamin.
What to Say
Vitamins help your body grow. You need to take them every day so that you’ll grow up big and strong like Mommy and Daddy—but you should only take what I give you. Too many vitamins can hurt you and make you sick.
Giving medication to your child or when your child observes you taking your medication.
What to Say
Sometimes the doctor gives you medicine to make you feel better when you are sick. Medicine is very strong and we take it only if the doctor tells us to. The doctor gives you medicine that is special and only for you so you shouldn’t take medicine that was made for someone else or you can get very sick.
Vitamins and medicines can sometimes look like candy and taste fruity like candy. Even if it tastes like strawberry, cherry, banana, or grape or looks like candy, it is medicine and can hurt you if you take too much or take it when you aren't sick.
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 that your doctor has chosen just for you. If you take medicine that belongs to somebody else, it could be dangerous and make you very sick.
Teach personal responsibility
Stress the need for your child to take personal responsibility for his/her own health, well-being and personal environment.
Your instructions should be clear and concise, relate to your child's experiences, and stated positively. Turn chores like brushing teeth, putting away toys, wiping up spills, and caring for pets into experiences that your child will enjoy. Break the activities down into manageable steps so that your child learns to develop plans and begins learning self-management skills. Developing such skills will help your child down the road in dealing with transitions by minimizing anxiety. Furthermore, such skills help them manage stress, one of the motivating reasons why youth engage in alcohol and drug use.
Teach prosocial behavior
Provide guidance and teach your child prosocial behavior.
It is important that you teach your child what kind of behavior is expected and provide opportunities for the development of necessary social skills. Teach your child the basic rules of how to get along with other children like playing fair, sharing, telling the truth, and treating others they way you want to be treated.
Turn frustration into a learning opportunity.
Preschoolers can be critical of others and get easily embarrassed by their own mistakes so it is important to provide necessary supports. If a tower of blocks keeps collapsing during a play session, work with your child to find possible solutions to the problem. You are modeling problem-solving, perseverance, and turning a bad situation into a success which reinforces a child’s self-confidence. Most importantly, your child will know that you will be there to help them through problems and that making mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow.
Teach what is real and what is not
Help your child understand the difference between make-believe and real life.
Preschoolers give meaning to things they don't understand in order to make sense of their world — but their meaning doesn't necessarily reflect the real world. It is okay to join in make-believe scenes during play; however, there are times when it is important to clarify between fantasy and reality. Ask your child what he/she thinks about a TV program or story. Let your child know about your likes and dislikes (e.g., point out positive behavior about friendship, cooperation, and concern for behaviors you disapprove). Discuss how violence or bad decisions can hurt people in real life.
Build decision-making skills
Celebrate your child's decision-making skills.
Positive decision-making skills are an important protective factor in preventing alcohol and drug abuse. Whenever possible, provide your child with opportunities to make decisions so he or she will learn about the consequences of bad choices and will grow to become a confident and responsible decision-maker. You can let your child make decisions like who to invite to their birthday party, which toys to take on a trip, how to spend a small amount of money, choosing what to wear, etc. Even if the clothes don't quite match, you are reinforcing your child's ability to make decisions.
Your child sees an adult smoking and, since you’ve talked about the dangers of smoking, is confused.
What to Say
Grownups can make their own decisions and sometimes those decisions aren’t the best for their bodies. Sometimes, when someone starts smoking, his or her body feels like it has to have cigarettes—even though it’s not healthy. And that makes it harder for him or her to quit.
Tell your child how proud you are of them.
Your child wants to please you and make you proud. They seek attention and approval from adults and like to be called on to help. Acknowledging your child’s efforts are related to achievement and besides that, there's never a bad time to give your child a boost of self-esteem! In addition, whether helping you cook, or carry a grocery bag, this is a great opportunity to give your child some practice with simple instructions and encouragement to follow instructions and rules.
Play and spend quality time with your child
Play with your child and plan to spend quality time with them regularly.
Set aside regular times when you can give your child your full attention. Plan for at least 30-60 minutes per day and let your child decide how you are going to spend the time. Playing, reading a book together, going for a walk or bike ride, playing games, or completing puzzles are special times that help build strong bonds of trust and affection between you and your child. These are also wonderful ways to help your child feel loved, connected, learn to make decisions, and release tensions all of which will contribute to your child’s drug resistance.
I'd rather ________ than do drugs! Help your child fill in the blank:
Research shows that when youth are engaged in healthy activities they are less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Being involved in and having a passion for something fosters skills such as communication, relationship-building, self-control, and problem solving (among others). As these skills join forces, they create a healthy, strong, and self-confident individual. When youth have something they enjoy, look forward to, and are proud of, they are less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol. Encourage your child to find their passion and to "live their no". Ask them what their interests are and do what you can to encourage and support these interests.