4 Tips to Having Challenging Conversations About Cannabis with your Children
Change is always met with a mixed bag of emotions. However, it is important to recognize that this is the new environment that our kids will be brought up in, and developing their understanding of how to navigate the world is our responsibility as their parents, leaders, and elders.
We must all be committed to providing children a safe space for them to ask meaningful questions and also for us to be able to offer them honest and factual responses, to the best of our ability.
The alternatives to building a trusted partnership through dialogue are unfavorable for all as it leaves us avoiding these important conversations or simply labeling them as “bad” or “good”. This type of broad-stroke labeling is inaccurate, incomplete, irresponsible, and dangerous.
Here are four tips and strategies to consider when speaking to your kids about cannabis.
1. Be Open and Welcoming to an Age Appropriate Conversation.
Whatever the age of your child, always remember that more than anything they would like to be heard and to have their intelligence respected.
As parents, before we are ever given the chance to positively influence our children, we must first create a welcoming environment for them to feel seen, heard, and respected.
To help create a safe space for your child to speak with you about cannabis (or anything important) consider the following:
A) focus on having a conversation, not conducting a lecture.
The main difference between having a conversation and conducting a lecture is the frequency of questions asked, the amount of time given to your child to speak, and the degree of interest you have in how your child thinks about the issues that are being discussed.
Focus your efforts on asking questions based on the ideas expressed by your child in a non-judgemental manner.
Cannabis Conversation Examples:
- I hear what you are saying, can you tell me more about that?
- That’s a very interesting point, help me understand how you came to think that?
- I haven’t thought of it that way myself, tell me more of what you are thinking?
- I think I understand where you are coming from, would you be open to hearing what I think about this?
B) minimize distractions so you can maximize impact.
Too often, even when our intentions are pure, the conversation breaks down because of environmental factors. This is because the brain is unable to multitask.
In fact, the more distractions present the more likely it is that the conversation will stall or at worst lead to miscommunication.
Turn off and tune in – put away the screens and find a quiet area so that everyone involved can safely express their thoughts. If you know your time is limited, then either mention that at the beginning of the conversation, or save it for another time where you know you won’t feel rushed.
2. IT’S OK TO NOT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.
Sometimes we avoid tough conversations because we think we need to be the expert on the subject. This is not the limiting factor in having a meaningful and connected conversation.
Furthermore, your children don’t expect you to be an authoritative figure on the subject. They are looking to you to see if you’re able and willing to help them find the answers to their questions. This is key to understand when handling difficult conversations.
It is imperative that both you and your child appreciate that not having an answer to the question is the beginning of a fruitful conversation, not a detrimental end.
Stay focused on generating answers together. Here are some things to consider to have a productive conversation even when you don’t have all the answers.
DO: Thank them for their questions and honor their curiosity.
DON’T: Say things like, “Why all the questions?”, “Do you think that’s relevant?”, or “What do I look like to you, an expert?”
DO: Let them know you are willing to do some research and get back to them.
DON’T: Make up an answer. Not only is this unfair and dangerous, but continuing to do so will quickly erode your child’s trust in you.
DO: Ask them if they would find it beneficial if both of you researched the answer together. Often you can start right away, if that is what you both think is best.
DON’T: Turn their question into “evidence” that they are not ready to continue having the conversation.
3. Avoid overly emotional responses.
This point applies to both extremes of emotional reactions. On one end, demonizing cannabis and using fear tactics to drive your point home, and on the other glorifying its benefits and using the “we all tried it when we were young” narrative. Neither point of view is overly helpful.
Overall, it's a good idea to be honest about your thoughts on the legalization of cannabis. However, your opinion should not overshadow your child’s need to develop their own understanding of the subject.
Outside of using the above tactics to make sure you are able to stay connected with your child throughout the conversation, it is essential to stay connected with your own emotions.
Going into emotional overdrive greatly reduces your ability to think clearly, to stay present to your child’s need, and increases the likelihood of miscommunication, therefore majorly decreases our problem-solving skills. Also, repeatedly behaving this way all but guarantees that your child will shut down and find the answers to their questions somewhere else.
If you notice your emotions are starting to prevent you from communicating in a manner that is productive, try removing yourself from the conversation by saying something like the following:
“I am noticing my emotions are getting the best of me right now. I'm going to take a moment to calm down. This conversation is very important to me, and I want to make sure that I am connecting to your thoughts and questions. How about we try again after dinner?”
Pro tip: Learning to be aware of your facial expressions as you say this is a game-changer!
4. Always, Encourage the Conversation to Continue.
Make sure your child knows this is an ongoing discussion and they are always welcome to speak with you, and ask you questions - regardless of how close or far apart your opinions are from that of your child’s. Like all important issues in our lives, often a single conversation is not enough to encompass all our ideas and feelings.
This is especially true for your children because as they grow they will enter into different stages of psychological development and legal rights. The best way to ensure your child will continue to use you as one of their primary sources of information and support is by remaining engaged in your child’s interests, friends, and challenges.
Finally, remember, even if you aren’t exactly sure how you feel about the legalization of cannabis, don’t let that stop your participation in the conversation. Your child still requires a sounding board and a guide as they navigate this new environment. Use the suggestions above to help you stay open, connected, and respectful of your child’s thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Find more beautiful prose by Dr. K on Relyf's Education & Wellness Blog.
Dr. Yashar Khosroshahi, ND, ACC is the Chair of the Medical Advisory Board (MAB) for Relyf and co-founder of MINDSHIFT NINJA, a Leadership Development company.