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If you need emergency HELP NOW dial 911. If you need INFORMATION call The Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center at 866-242-4111.

Laying the Groundwork

Once your children begin to talk, it’s not long before their questions follow. “Why is the grass green?” soon gives way to “What’s wrong with that man sitting in the park?” If you show your child that you’re ready to give honest answers at any time–even when the subject makes you uncomfortable–you’ll forge a trusting relationship. Your children will come to you with their concerns because they know you take them seriously.

Being a good listener gives you insight into your children’s world–the sights and sounds that influence them every day. Since they’re the experts about fashions, music, TV and movies, ask them what music groups are popular and what their songs are about. What their friends like to do after school. What’s cool and what’s not and why. Encourage them with phrases such as “That’s interesting” or “I didn’t know that” and by asking follow-up questions.

In these conversations you can steer the talk to social problems: drugs, sex, drinking and smoking. If you can communicate your values to your children before they’re faced with difficult decisions, experts say they’ll be more likely to make the right choices. By introducing these topics you’re not “putting ideas into their heads”–any more than talking about traffic safety might make them want to jump in front of a car. You’re simply letting them know about potential dangers in their environment–so that when they’re confronted with them they’ll know what to do.

With families juggling the multiple demands of work, school, after-school activities and religious and social commitments, it can be a challenge for parents and children to be in the same place at the same time. It helps to plan for togetherness.

Weekly family meetings at a time everyone has agreed on provide a regular forum for discussing accomplishments, complaints, projects, discipline questions and any topic of concern to any family member. Ground rules: Everyone gets a chance to talk; one person talks at a time without interruption; and only positive, constructive feedback is allowed. To get a rebellious child to go along with the idea, try an incentive like pizza after the meeting, or assign him an important role such as taking the official notes.

Getting together with your children at set times eliminates the need for constant planning and gives each child personal time with you to count on. Try taking the long way home from school every Tuesday and getting ice cream. Or make Saturday visits to the library together. Even a few minutes of conversation while you’re cleaning up after dinner or right before bedtime keeps open the channels of communication and helps establish common values.