Positive Parenting Prevents Substance Use Disorder
I have two little boys: 5 and 2. They’re both my greatest joy and greatest worry in life. I was always an anxious person prior to having them, but after I had my first baby, the anxiety costumed me. I was hostage to my own fears, emotionally paralyzed by the incessant thought that something bad would happen to him. In part, it was largely due to my postpartum blues. But even after my emotions leveled out – through time and therapy – the worry remained. It was not as loud as before, muting everything enjoyable, but it was still there lingering quietly.
I think it’s normal, though, really. Never having loved anybody or anything quite as untethered as I do these two little beings, it’s normal to worry about them. I’m sure the majority of parents can say the same about their own kids.
We worry about their health, safety and happiness. We worry about who they’ll grow up to be, and how much of what we do (or don’t do) will influence the outcome.
Because, like superheroes, parenting comes with great responsibility. As parents, it is our moral duty to mold the future generation into thriving, well-rounded, emotionally intelligent members of society. Encouraging children to make positive choices, to take the right – albeit sometimes difficult – path, is all part of the parental process. And so is doing everything we can to protect them from the dangers and consequences that come with the misuse of drugs and alcohol.
But how might we accomplish the latter?
Well, according to a study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand, positive parenting is a start.
What is Positive Parenting?
A highly aware and conscious endeavor, positive parenting focuses on warm, nurturing and responsive parenting. According to Psychology Today, it is when the parent reinforces good behavior and avoids using inconsistent or harsh discipline to teach appropriate behavior. It is encouraging and supportive and not overly authoritative or punitive, involving a home devoid of severe physical punishment and partner violence.
Psychology Today further links positive parenting to higher school grades, lower substance abuse, positive self-concepts, social competence and improved mental health.
The Study and its Results
The Christchurch Health and Development study was led by Professor Joe Boden, who – along with his team – followed the lives of more than 1,000 people born in Canterbury, New Zealand in 1977. They analyzed an extensive amount of data, revealing that the people who grew up in a positive environment experienced the following:
- Lower alcohol and substance use disorder (SUD) rates
- Fewer mental health issues
- Consistent employment
The study itself reviewed certain information regarding the participants’ lives, which included:
- Their levels of conflict
- Exposure to violence and physical punishment
- Exposure to substance-related issues
- How they described their parents’ parenting style (whether it was caring or overprotective)
- Alcohol and drug use at specific ages
How to be a Positive Parent
According to an article published by Daily Post Athenian, here a few ways to develop a positive parenting environment in your home:
- Strong bonds: Building strong emotional bonds can allow kids to safely learn, explore and relate to others. Referred to as “secure attachment,” children need a dependable adult who responds to their needs. Penn State University’s Better Kid Care program, says, that children who are securely attached, use a special adult as their base of security. When children feel secure, they are more likely to handle obstacles in a positive way and learn how to manage their feelings and behaviors, and develop self-confidence. They can move away from their dependable adult to explore, but all the while knowing they can always go back to that adult, when needed.
- Be available: Life is nothing if not busy, and it’s usually riddled with distractions. When we’re going a million miles an hour, it is challenging to provide undivided attention. But when we are emotionally and physically available to our children, this deepens the bond even further, helping them develop healthy life skills they’ll need later on. It is important for children to know they are number one on our laundry list of priorities. And when life’s inevitable responsibilities prevent us from offering unwavering attention, it’s equally important we communicate to them why that is.
- Establish mutual respect: Paramount to positive parenting, mutual respect help kids understand why rules are made, which makes them more willing to follow them. It also helps parents understand misbehavior. A stronger bond means parents are more likely to notice stressors impacting their children. And through this, both parents and kids can learn to be more empathetic and understanding toward others.
- Be a positive role model: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a common phrase I repeat to myself. And it can be applied in parenting, as well. We certainly wouldn’t want someone reacting to us with frustration and negativity, so why would we do that to our children? Of course, we’re only human. But the more we’re aware of our reactions, the more our kids will learn how to react to others. Research shows that parental modeling impacts behaviors associated with alcohol and substance abuse.
- Build higher self-esteem: Positive parenting says there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. Instead of yelling when a child misbehaves, a positive parent responds calmly, explaining what the consequences are for bad behavior, and why the behavior is unacceptable.
Furthermore, it is vital to begin a conversation with your child about the perils of alcohol and drug misuse, tailoring it according to their age range.
According to a recent article published by Kilgore News Herald, “Substance Abuse Prevention: Talking to your kids about substance abuse at every age,” here’s their guide of what to say to your children based on their ages:
- Ages 2 to 4: At this age, the notion of making healthy choices should be introduced. Encouraging them to exercise, and eat and sleep well. You can also tell them to avoid dangerous substances in their environment, such as cleaners, medications or anything toxic they could get into.
- Ages 5 to 8: At this age you can set clear rules and expectations with your children about substances. If an adult drinks or smokes at home, make sure they know these substances are especially dangerous to them at their age. Explain the difference between using and misusing medicine.
- Ages 9 to 12: As a preteen, they will crave some level of independence, so at this age it is necessary to enforce your rules and expectations. Children in households that have established boundaries are less likely to use substances. This age in a child’s life tends to bring insecurity and pressure, so check in with your child’s friends and their parents to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Ages 13 to 18: This is a crucial period. It is when teens begin to hear more about alcohol and substance use from their peers. Pressure to use is also prevalent at this age. As a parent, you should speak openly with your child about substance use. Make it clear that you disapprove of underage substance use, but listen to how they feel about the issue. Instead of having the talk only once, bring it up to your children often. And encouraging your teen to come to you if they ever need to talk, helps build trust.
- Ages 19 to 25: Even though your child at this age is now a young adult, and might be living away, it is still necessary to reassure them you’re there to support them. They will still benefit from parental guidance, so talk to them about the drugs and lifestyle they may encounter in the “real world” or on a college campus. You can also keep an eye on your child’s mental health and be sure they are aware of the mental health resources on campus.
So, while we may never stop worrying about the welfare of our children, we can take certain steps to ensure they flourish and succeed in an unpredictable world.