By Stephanie Thomas

Seems like it was just yesterday when your toddler mispronounced every word from spaghetti (ba-sketti) to guacamole (monkey-bowie), all in her own sweet, flawed perfection. And yes, there were lots of talks of food in those early days.

Now she’s learning to read and, gloriously, stumbling on her words again. It’s the cutest! Still, the evidence is all there: she’s growing up. And while the conversations these days revolve around her cool new toy and what’s happening with friends at school, you’re also looking at prime time for prepping your daughter to avoid drugs and alcohol when she’s really grown.

Drug Awareness Begins Earlier Than You Might Think

Father and daughter talkingResearch shows us that kids as young as nine years old begin making decisions about how they’ll respond to offers of drugs and alcohol in the future.1 If this scares you, it should. That’s what we call a healthy fear. Of course, like with other healthy fears, you have some control over the outcome. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse says talking early and often about drugs makes kids 42 percent less likely to use them.2

In addition to continuing the conversations you started in the preschool years, be sure to also follow our tips below for engaging your elementary-aged child.

Tips for Discussing Drugs with Young Kids

Okay parents, time to work on your poker face. Learn how to handle awkward questions with age-appropriate responses and as much calm as you can muster. After all, a whopping 66 percent of upper-elementary to high-school-aged students say their parents are the reason they will or won’t drink.3 Your voice matters, so speak up!

Be specific: You should feel comfortable detailing what actually happens when a person abuses alcohol or drugs. Grade-school aged kids are curious creatures. They soak up weird, interesting and even scary facts about the world around them.4 Just avoid exaggeration. Don’t say “You’re a bad person if you drink!” Instead, talk about how drinking can lead to dangerous problems and list those problems fully. In this way, you’ll remain a reliable expert.

Set clearly-defined rules: Don’t assume your kids know how you’d feel if they were caught with drugs or alcohol, tell them. Say, with step-by-step instructions, exactly what you expect them to do in tricky situations. Elementary students in particular should be cautioned against inhaling any substances, including common household cleaners, classroom glue or even crushed-up candies.5 To young kids, these actions may look harmless, but can lead to all kinds of health issues, including addiction and death.6

Ask questions: You can learn a lot about your own child’s knowledge, thoughts and feelings around drugs and alcohol by posing simple questions like, “What do you know about drugs?”1 If your son or daughter doesn’t have much to say, you might frame the discussion a different by way asking “What do the kids at school say about drinking?” or “What questions do you have?” Be sure to reassure them as you listen, and fill in the gaps as needed with a calm and gentle tone.

Areas for Crucial Skill-Building

Like the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” And while your words are of mighty importance, there are a few actions you can take that don’t seem related to building alcohol- and drug-resistance skills, but totally are.

1. Address peer pressure

You can equip your child to resist peer pressure, which shows up as early as second grade, by encouraging individuality and teaching her to be an includer — valuable characteristics that are sure to embolden her in the challenging middle-school years.7

2. Spend time together

Eat dinner as a family, tackle a project — just the two of you — and be sure to give lots and lots of hugs. Fourth and fifth graders in particular crave regular reassurances and comfort but aren’t sure how to ask for those things.7 Establish yourself as a go-to.

3. Instill healthy habits for alleviating stress

Surveys show the average kindergartener brings home three times the recommended amount of homework each day and the pressure only grows from there.8 A compelling reason to send your kids outside, support them in their hobbies and sign them up for an extracurricular activity — all of which build self esteem and reduce stress.7

4. Encourage a love of reading

Fourth graders today are not the fourth graders of past generations. They’re in tune with the world around them in ways that might make some of us uncomfortable. Thankfully, they’re also developing a love of reading that, if nurtured, can last for a lifetime.7 Steer them in the direction of books that inspire good health and a strong character. Two of our favorites: Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink and Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio.

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.

1Talking to Younger Kids about Drugs and Alcohol: Early Prevention Tips.” The Center for Parenting Education, Accessed October 29, 2017.

27 Things Every Teacher Needs to Know about Teens and Drug and Alcohol Use.” We Are Teachers, September 21, 2016.

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

4 Broadwell, Laura. “Talking to Your Kid About Drugs.”

5Talking About Drugs with Kids in Elementary School (Ages 6 – 10).” Addiction is Real, August 17, 2017.

6 Korby, Boris & Hutchison, Corey. “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome Kills with One Puff.” ABC News, March 11, 2010.

7 “Grade-by-Grade Learning Guide.” PBS, Accessed October 28, 2017.

8 Wallace, Kelly. “Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?” CNN, August 12, 2015.