As a Super Parent, you are a natural teacher. But even Super Parents don’t have all the answers. How can you help your children avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol? How can you encourage your children to express their natural emotions in healthy ways?
By Sharon Burnett, PhD, Executive Director of West Valley Counseling Center
Why Do Kids Use?
Many kids are drawn to drinking alcohol and taking drugs. After all, alcohol and drugs are attractive because they can soothe difficult or disruptive emotions, mask the effects of family turmoil, and possibly mask trauma. Peer pressure can push a child over the line and into drugs.
The catch? The soothing effect of drugs and alcohol is only temporary. In the end, the child’s emotions are still there, waiting to be dealt with, somehow.
As parents, we can see how the temporary solution of drugs and alcohol actually creates deeper problems in our children. But our kids, who are trying to survive each day, don’t have this perspective. In fact, kids are often willing to sacrifice their long-term well being for some short-term calm.
How can we prepare our children to combat this “temporary fix”? We can we help them choose a different path.
The key is to create resiliency in our children from their early years onward. We do this in our parent-child relationships by paying close attention to how we listen to our kids and model for them healthy emotional expression.
How do our kids deal with difficult emotions, with trauma, with things that they don’t understand or that frighten them?
Maybe they talk to us, their parents. Maybe they talk to friends, teachers, or counselors. Maybe they don’t talk to anyone at all.
“Parents are the first line of defense,” said Susan Blauner, Director of Operations, Saving Lives Drug and Alcohol Coalition.
There’s a better way to help our children soothe their emotional turmoil: a strong, healthy relationship. Your relationship with your child starts with emotion. Emotions are the natural cues we feel that tell us what we need. During difficult times, we depend on the people around us to make us feel cared for. And when we feel cared for, amazing things can happen in our lives.
A good relationship provides a child with the feeling of loving -- and being loved by -- another human being. A relationship teaches our kids something incredibly important: that they have value, and that other people value them as well. The most important and powerful relationship in which this occurs over the course of a lifetime is the parent-child relationship.
When you listen to your child, you create and strengthen a bond, and several important things happen:
- You help your child identify his or her feelings, worries, and fears.
- You encourage your child to express his or her emotions without passing judgment.
- You talk about these emotions so your child can process what he or she is feeling — and why.
How you listen and respond to your children will change as they grow and respond to the world around them. But the simple act of noticing what your children are feeling -- and helping them express those feelings -- creates for a child the sense of being seen, loved, and valued.
When you do this, you help your child meet his or her basic needs of growing up. When their needs are met, children feel soothed. Suddenly the attractiveness of drugs and alcohol will most likely fade. After all, your children now have a consistent and natural way to soothe those tough emotions: they ask you, their parent, to listen to them.
The staff at West Valley Counseling Center provides therapy and family counseling to dozens of clients every day. In this blog series our therapists will explore how to create “valuing relationships” throughout your child’s life. We will go step by step through a child’s emotional development, giving clear descriptions with real-world examples of how to foster strong emotional relationships and help our children deal with the ups and downs of life. Look for our next blog coming soon.
Bookmark this blog, and visit us soon for Part 2: “Listening to Your Child with an Open Heart, Part 2: The Early Years.”