By Stephanie Thomas

Young girl holding mom's handPutting the words “drugs” and “preschooler” in the same sentence looks like the backlash to helicopter parenting gone haywire. Sure, today’s kids need an extra dose of reality, but talking about heroin with little Charlie? Seems a bit much.

Hear us out. Experts believe the preschool years are the best time to start the conversation.1 So before you plop your four-year-old down with a bowl of popcorn and a Breaking Bad marathon, maybe just try implementing some of the ideas below.

Your babies are innocent, and we get that … except they aren’t babies anymore. Preschoolers have growing minds and bodies, and they’re slowly but surely starting to grasp complex issues like cause and effect.2

Because of this, you can feel comfortable calling it like you see it on a few key drug-related issues. Be sure to keep your words and explanations simple, which is the way three- and four-year-olds learn best.2

Explaining Good and Bad Uses of Medicine

Pills come in little bottles that rattle just right when you shake them, and they’re often candy-sized or candy-colored. No doubt you put away these toddler temptations ages ago.

But now we’d like to encourage you to take them down from them top shelf and place them on your preschooler’s level — just for this conversation, of course.

You might say: Remember when your ears hurt real bad, and we went to the doctor so she could take a look? And remember how she gave you that yummy grape medicine to make you all better? We used that medicine for good, didn’t we? But sometimes medicine isn’t used for good. If you take medicine that’s not yours, or if you take too much, it won’t help your body. It can actually hurt you. That’s why you should never take medicine from anyone but your parents or your doctor. And you should never take medicine on your own.

Encourage your son or daughter to repeat the information back to you in their own words. Consider using your child’s vitamin dose as a regular reminder that they should only take medicine from you.3

Don’t Miss an Opportunity to Engage Your Child

Despite a vibrant imagination, your preschooler is finally starting notice the differences between fantasy and reality.2 You can help firm up those differences by calling attention to portrayals of adults smoking, drinking or doing drugs.

Your thoughts are a necessary go-between as studies show that kids who see adults drinking onscreen, for instance, are more likely to drink themselves.4

When it comes to smoking you might say: You see the guy on TV with the white stick in his mouth? That’s a cigarette. Sometimes in shows or movies you’ll see someone smoking a cigarette, and it looks really cool and fun! But the thing is, in real life, smoking cigarettes isn’t so fun. They’re actually really bad for your body. And they’re tricky too! Cigarettes tell your body to keep smoking even though they make you sick. In fact, cigarettes can make a person so sick that they end up going away and never coming back again.5

When it comes to drinking you might say: I want to talk to you about last night, when we went out dinner, and you asked Uncle Johnny for a sip of his drink. I know you were upset that I said no, and I want to tell you why. Uncle Johnny was drinking alcohol. And alcohol is something only adults are allowed to drink. That’s because alcohol can make you feel and act a little strange. And you have to have enough wisdom and responsibility to know how much to drink and when to stop. That’s why some adults choose not to drink alcohol even though they can.5

Be ready for lots of questions on this one. As your preschooler dives deeper and deeper into the why of what you’re telling him, keep this in mind: researchers found that “when a four-year-old asks why, they aren’t looking for reason or purpose. What they are really asking is ‘How?’”2

Prepare to explain how cigarettes, alcohol and drugs affect the body by doing a little research.

Build a Firm Foundation

Beyond tough talks, you can lay the groundwork for future conversations and help your child resist drugs later on by focusing on these foundational goals:

  1. Teach the “Boss of My Body” Mindset
    Train your preschooler to be both responsible for, and in control of, his body. This means giving him the authority to tell a friend, “Don’t push me!” It also means showing him how to manage his nutrition and hygiene, as well as what it looks like to respect body boundaries set by other people.
  1. Encourage Self-Esteem
    Studies show a correlation between boys with low self-esteem at age 11 and drug use at age 20.7 Now is the time to begin growing your child’s confidence. Experts suggest letting preschoolers make choices throughout the day as a way of reinforcing solid decision-making skills and following up with them regularly to see how their emotions are fairing.1, 6
  1. Strengthen Self-Control
    At last, we reach perhaps the trickiest of all skills for a preschooler — or person of any age — to master. In fact, it should come as no surprise that kids who lack self-control are more likely to use drugs.8 And yet, there’s hope. Researches at the Rethink Group found that, for three- and four-year olds, the hope is you: “The way you consistently meet their needs, engage their interests and provide discipline will help them cultivate self-control.”2

For more tips on raising kids, check out Peachford’s parenting classes. You’ll learn about discipline, birth order, communication and other concepts that can help you understand how to approach parenting in today’s world.

1 Broadwell, Laura. “Talking to Your Kid About Drugs.” Accessed September 7, 2017.

2 Joiner, R. & Ivy, K. It’s Just a Phase — So Don’t Miss It: Why Every Life Stage of a Kid Matters and at Least 13 Things Your Church Should Do About It. The reTHINK Group, 2015.

3Drug Prevention Tips for Every Age.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed September 7, 2017.

4 Wallace, Kelly. “The More Alcohol Ads Kids See, the More They Consume.”, September 9, 2016.

5 Fratt, Lisa. “5 Things to Know About Talking to Your Kids About Heroin (and Other Drugs).” Boston Children’s Hospital, November 2, 2015.

6Talking to Your Child About Drugs.”, November 2014.

7 Stoppler, Melissa Conrad MD. “Low Self Esteem May Lead to Drug Abuse in Boys.” Edited by Marks, Jay W, March 3, 2017.

8 Pokherel, P., Sussman, S., Rohrbach, L.A. & Sun, P. “Prospective associations of social self-control with drug use among youth from regular and alternative high schools.” US National Library of Medicine, July 14, 2007.