Chapter 8

Communication, Discipline, and Support

We know that prevention-smart parenting is a 24/7 activity. This chapter helps you to strengthen communication skills, and refine how you discipline your child. It aims to help you learn how to discuss drug use with your child, and how to continue the discussion as he or she grows into young adulthood.

What you already know

Mentor recognizes how hard it is to be a parent. No one gets formal schooling on how to be a parent. Many parents raise children in the same manner they were raised, while others try out different ways. Regardless of how you choose to raise your children, there are tips for parents about the sensitive subject of communicating with teenagers about drug use, and to raise issues about peer influence, and on how to best provide discipline that results in self-discipline — the desired outcome for any discipline we provide.

 This is my first time being a parent!

Many parents who say a child was easy to care for when young will tell you that talking to the same child during the teenage years can be a lot more difficult. Parents may have tried to set clear rules for behavior, but teenagers can find loopholes and exceptions to each rule, leaving parents feeling out-smarted and ineffective.

The good news about adolescence is that almost all teenagers — and parents — come out of the experience just fine. Even if you have not yet had the “drug talk” — or other important discussions with your child, you can still help prevent or delay potential drug use and other unhealthy behaviors by starting the conversation now.

Time to Talk Toolkit

There is a useful website provided by Partnership at Drug Free.org to help you with having a conversation with your child about drugs: the Time to Talk Toolkit.

The toolkit includes numerous resources and guides, including:

  • Begin talking with your kids about the risks of drugs and alcohol
  • Know exactly what to say
  • Answer the tough question: "Did you do drugs?"

Additional resources:

  • Tips for caring adults involved with kids
  • A practical, one-sheet guide to the drug and alcohol scene

Communication, Discipline, and Support

Before jumping ahead to an actual conversation with your child about drug use, let’s spend a little time defining what is meant by the words “communication”, “discipline” and ‘support’, as each of these terms represents actions that parents use to shape positive behavior in their children.

A process where both parents and youth give and receive information about their ideas, feelings, and opinions.

Discipline is encouraging behavior learned from infancy, through consistent repetition and sometimes rules of behaviors and activities reinforced by the parent. Examples include attending to personal hygiene, planning ahead, doing household chores and taking responsibilities. As the child develops and matures, he or she is more likely to learn that there are consequences if their behavior falls short of expectations or the standards set by the parents and by the surrounding community. The intended outcome is appropriate behavior that is undertaken by the individual of their own accord rather than it being enforced by rules or demands.

Showing love or affection, assisting and helping your child are ways thet parents support their children. A child who receives this support tends to have positive self-esteem because they feel they are an important part of a group (the family). When families support each other, children tend to be better at coping with daily life stresses and challenges, as well as if a major family crisis occurs.

You might remember Chapter 6 where we discussed why youth may or may not use drugs. One of the important ways to protect a child from using drugs is to have supportive parents.

These words are the framework for parent and child relationships, and can help keep the focus on partnering with your child to guide her or him through the challenging adolescent years.

Parenting styles

It is important to set rules, but there are many ways of doing this. In most situations, punishment and fear tend to work against you. When you teach a child using punishment, he or she tends to react with resentment, and to obey out of fear. There are more effective ways, or styles, to apply discipline and teach responsibility.

The style a parent or caregiver uses to set and apply family rules may differ according to the age, gender, or culture of the child, among other factors. But in general, a parenting style is the manner in which a parent demonstrates love and affection for a child, and how they limit and influence a child’s behavior by using consequences. Here, we discuss four main styles of parenting that research has identified: Permissive, Authoritarian, Neglecting and Democratic. As you will see, one of them is the desirable approach. Which best reflects your current style and which style would you like to be or would be most effective?

Permissive

Whatever you like, dear...

Research suggests that children raised in a permissive parenting style tend to be less self-assured and have lower self-esteem. They will decide on their own behavior, and are more likely to reject rules set by others.

Authoritarian

NO! Do it my way!

Children raised according to this style tend to have low self-esteem and are often described by teachers and other adults as anxious, angry, aggressive and confrontational.

Neglecting

Research shows that children raised in a neglecting family are often unable to regulate their own behavior, and may show antisocial behavior in school and the community.

Not now; I don't have time...

Democratic

Let's talk about this.

Research indicates that children raised with this democratic parenting style tend to be the most competent, or ‘likely to succeed’ in family, school, and community environments.

What are your views about disciplining?

Mentor recognizes that parenting practices around the world vary according to cultures. So, even though some of the following information may not seem to apply to your particular family. We invite you to consider the ideas and suggestions we provide hereto help you become prevention-smart, and perhaps blend them in with the ways you parent your children.

What it all means

None of us are perfect prevention-smart parents. Even if we want to be democratic in our style, we often show elements of all the styles on different occasions and for different reasons, such as the way we are feeling at the time. But the prevention-smart parent should reflect on their behavior and style and decide what style they feel to be most effective for the sake of the child and their future.

So it is important to notice that parents do not always use one parenting style. Individual differences, such as personality traits, family background or culture may lead them to use various styles to create their own particular style. Parenting styles can be used together or overlap even in the course of a single interaction, depending on the parent’s and the child’s moods, the situation in question, the nature of the concern, and the desired outcome.

 I won't ever eat broccoli!

Also, use of styles may change over time with regard to personal and family development (including age and specific needs of each member), and situational demands (such as family vacation, job loss, or illness). But it does seem desirable to try and aim for the democratic style as much as possible.

By being a democratic parent, and using positive communication that allows children to negotiate about rules, and consequences, parents may find that children need less monitoring and supervision. By including all members of the family in the negotiation of rules and consequences you help promote a better understanding of expectations and behavior.

Democratic does not mean “anything goes”. Read the definition outline again. Children need rules and need discipline. But it is how it is shown and given and followed up that is important.

If you have a parenting partner, discuss and agree on a style so both of you will stick to the rules established. If you are a single parent who has support for child-care from other adults, make sure these adults are also aware of the rules and consequences you use so that they can be consistent. Otherwise, children may take advantage of the differences and inconsistency between parents and caring adults.

Parenting Styles Quiz

Answer the following questions by clicking on the 'True' or 'False' buttons. Do you agree with our experts?

Question: 
Over-protection will increase my child’s sense of security.
Children should be allowed to do what they want.
It is reasonable to negotiate rules with your teenage child
Rules and limits can be modified
Answer: 
False
False
True
True
Reasoning: 

Children who are overprotected usually do not know how to deal with stressful or risky situations that are not supervised. This may lead to lower self-confidence and less effective coping skills.

Lack of rules or limits tend to create as much conflict as excessive punishment. By understanding how to react to rules, children learn how to interact in society. Therefore children who are not exposed to rules or “terms” of behaviour would be left without an essential understanding of how to behave in society.

Negotiating rules with a teenager leads to a better understanding of them and more compliance. This process significantly increases the young adult’s negotiation skills and appreciation of the different consequences between options. Discussing rules allows every family member involved to express his/her views. This will result in more commitment with the rules that are set. This discussion often changes a rule into a negotiated term of operation which is more likely to have the intended outcome.

However, do not change the rules according to mood swings. Be flexible for good reasons. For example, a rule might change as a child grows older, as he or she can handle more responsibilities and privileges.

Negotiating Rules or Terms with Your Child

The following suggestions might help you to establish clearly negotiated rules with your teenager:

This is my view on yelling at your little brother, now let me hear your view and reasons why you do it!

Four Ways to Improve Communication with Your Teenager

  1. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Tell me about your day” or “What did you and your friends do today?” These allow your teenager to tell you about events and they also require more than a one-word answer.

Suggested Activity: Effective Communication

Practice speaking with effective communication skills. Practice what you want to say. Use sentences that start with the words “I think…”, “I feel…” or “I want…”, instead of “You should…” or “You must…”

Here are a few examples. Instead of: “You should listen to me so I wouldn’t have to yell at you!” Try:

I want you to listen to me when I am speaking, and I will listen when you talk. That way we will communicate better.

Instead of: “Stop hanging out with your friends who smoke!” Try:

I do not want you to smoke, and when you are with your friends who smoke, I worry that you are influenced by them to smoke too.

The good news is that when a child is effectively disciplined, it is more likely that she or he will be:

How to Argue Fairly

Sometimes a heated argument may occur between you and your child. Here are some guidelines to follow to help minimize the anger and hurt that can result during such intense discussions with your child.

Being at the sweet spot of prevention-smart parenting

Over time, parents tend to find out that it’s best to help their children understand the consequences of their actions through communication and negotiation strategies. Negotiation leads to responsible actions, hence less need for supervision. Building rules and terms of behavior together promotes better communication between family members.

Be at the sweet spot of prevention-smart parenting

Communicating about Drug Use

Next we discuss the keys to effective communication about drugs with your children. There are no “one size fits all” methods when it comes to successfully communicating with your child. But one of the most important considerations when discussing drugs is the age of your child. Over the next two pages we discuss how to adjust your approach and what you talk about to match your child’s age.

Talking to children under age 12

How to approach your child

Children will probably not benefit much from having a discussion about why drugs are bad unless it occurs in a context they understand. Bringing them up to consider their health, safety and well-being, and that of others, is the best context for talking about drugs as they grow older. Bring up the topic of drugs when relevant everyday events occur: family parties where alcohol is consumed; someone in public view is abusing drugs; someone is smoking in public; situations that involve potentially dangerous household products at home.

In addition, parents must talk about drugs that are not “bad”, such as over-the-counter medicines and prescription drugs, but which can have serious negative or harmful consequences if used incorrectly, i.e., abused. For example, when children need to take cough syrup, or pain relievers such as aspirin, it is important for them to know that a trusted adult should always be present. And when drugs are prescribed by a doctor, the only person allowed to use the drugs is the one who was seen by the doctor. Prescription drugs should never be shared, even with someone who appears to have the same symptoms or type of illness.

What to say

There is no set speech. When the time or situation allows you can clearly state the dangers of drinking too much, smoking or any use of tobacco, taking medicines when not needed, or swallowing or sniffing household products. Convey messages of “no drug use,” and responsible use of medicines and prescription drugs. Remind your child that you want them to be healthy as possible, and that using drugs is not always safe. Reference to illegal drugs may not be appropriate for the younger person. You have to decide on “readiness” and timing.

Here are some examples of what to say:

Your body and brain are still developing and drugs can harm that.

Drugs might make you feel good for a few minutes, but that feeling won’t last long. What takes over can become very harmful and worrying and cause you harm both now and in the future.

What you can do

Be responsible with your own drug use.

As best as you can, apply these same rules to all adults who are in your home or who spend time around your children.

Adapted from AADAC’s Prevention Tips.

Practice Scenario

Now that you have some background information about effective ways to communicate with children and young adults, you and your child are invited to go through the various scenarios presented below. These scenarios will help you better understand effective communication and allow you to practice your communication skills.

Child younger than 12-years-old

Scenario 1: Michael (age 8) is currently learning in school about how drinking alcohol may harm people’s health. While riding in the car with his Dad, they stop at a gas station, where Michael sees a young woman standing in front of the station drinking a beer. He comments on it to his Dad. How should Michael’s Dad react to this situation?

Talking to children age 12 and older

Effective communication with teenagers can take time and often parents may feel that they have to repeat themselves. However, teenagers very often want their parents to be involved in their lives; they want to talk with parents and discuss issues and want approval from you. Sure, sometimes they will react with defensiveness, defiance, and accusations of “you don’t know anything”, or “you don’t understand”. But hang in there with your child.

Express to your child the need to talk about the issue of drugs. Ask him or her to decide when and where. Try to settle on a time that is best for both of you, but be firm on the need to have a meeting in the very near future. It is always best to find the time when it is on the agenda from some event, TV show or has been raised in some other context.

What to say

Thank your child for his/her willingness to talk, even if it is obvious that he or she was just talking because you firmly requested a conversation. Try listening; don’t rush on making judgments. Your child may have a point, even if you disagree with it. Avoid doing all the talking; make statements that require more than yes or no answers.

I heard there was a drug problem in school this week. Tell me a little more about what your friends are saying about drugs.

Did you see that article in the paper about a person your age being in trouble with drugs? What is your view on drugs?

There are a lot of messages in the media about drinking and using drugs. What do think of these messages?

I care about you and your safety.

It would hurt me greatly if you drank alcohol or used other drugs because…

Smoking or chewing tobacco is a bad habit and it can easily lead to becoming addicted to nicotine.

If you feel that you need to use drugs because you do not like the way your life is going or because you are hurting inside, come to me so we can talk. I will help you get real help.

It’s okay to tell your friends you do not want to use. Just say: ‘I am fine not using.’

You can always say: ‘If I get caught my parents will come down hard on me.’

Or you can say: ‘I will be the designated driver.’

Let’s think of some strategies we can use when you are offered drugs or when booze is around...

Practice Scenario: Child older than 12-years-old

Scenario 2: Karina (age 15) spent the night at a friend’s house. At home the next day, Grandmother notices that Karina’s jacket smells like cigarettes, then finds a pack of cigarettes in the jacket pocket. What should Karina’s grandmother do?

Quiz: What Would You Do?

Consider these scenarios to get an idea of your communication approach as a parent.

  1. You are overwhelmed at work and might have to stay late at the office. Yesterday, you promised your son that you would attend his football match. You decide to:

    1. Call your son and apologize for not being able to make it.
    2. Put your work off until the next day, and attend the match.
    3. Stay at work, and buy your son a present on the way home.
  2. The rooms of your house were repainted a week ago. When you get home from work, your 5-year old is excited to show you his creation: He has scribbled pictures on the bedroom walls. You:

    1. Yell at him for drawing on the freshly painted wall.
    2. Turn around and say nothing.
    3. Acknowledge what he has done. (“I see you have scribbled on the wall”.) Tell him that he should not scribble on walls, but can use paper instead. Show him where to find paper for scribbling.
  3. It’s Saturday night. You and your son have to attend a party planned by co-workers. As you get ready, you realize your son is wearing his dirty sport shoes. You ask him to change, but he refuses and runs to his room crying. You decide to:

    1. Demand that he change into other shoes before you leave the house.
    2. Ignore his shoes and let him wear them to the party.
    3. Remind him this is a special occasion. Suggest wearing clean shoes, but bring the old shoes in a bag in case there is a game of football.
  4. Your child’s last report card showed very low grades. You schedule daily study time from 6pm to 8pm to catch up. One night she asks if she can go to a movie with school mates. You decide to:

    1. Talk about her recent grades and remind her why this has happened. You ask her to think about it while she stays home and studies.
    2. Consider letting her go to the movies might be taken as a good incentive to bring her grades up.
    3. Say no, and don’t explain because she knows exactly what needs to be done on school nights.

Discuss Your Answers!

Discuss these questions and your responses with your family, friends – and your children to find out what they feel about your response and what they feel would be the best response – and why.

Add the following situations for discussion together:

  • You realize that your child has been to a party where they got drunk and smoked cigarettes. How do you deal with this?

  • You know your child is mixing with people who are involved in drug use. How do you approach this?

  • Your child has joined a “legalize cannabis” group. How do you deal with this when you sit down to discuss this with them?

Communication, Discipline, and Support

This chapter has been about how to help the prevention smart parent communicate with their children in a way that shows appropriate discipline and support to help the child grow as a healthy, self-disciplined person who will take notice of his/her parents views – views the child wants and needs in spite of that not always appearing to be the case.

Good communication, a parenting style that shows appropriate care and discipline (democratic style – remember?) and which offers care and support are essential to young people growing up to be able to make their own positive and healthy decisions about life generally and drug use specifically. It offers some ideas on how to approach talking (and listening) to your children about drugs and drug related matters.

Reflect on:

Try and identify where you need help – or practice!

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