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Rules for an Effective Conversation

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Think about what kind of communication will get your message about drugs and alcohol across effectively and always leave the door open for further conversations.

Remember, I said that talking with your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol should be an ongoing conversation with them. My last guideline for you, then, is this: Plan for an effective conversation. That is, think about what kind of communication will get your message across effectively and always leave the door open for further conversations.

Below are some tips to help you maximize opportunities to engage your child in conversation.


Keep it private.
We all remember at least one time from our childhood when our parents enraged us by sharing something embarrassing about us in front of our siblings or friends. It wasn’t the right time or place for that kind of communication. One principle I have tried to put into practice with my colleagues at work is also one I try to apply at home: Affirm in public, rebuke in private.

Likewise, as our own children get older, they become extremely self-conscious and sensitive to what we say when their friends are around. If we fail to recognize this, we can be armed with the best information and it still won’t hit the target or get the result we are looking for. That’s why we need to wait for those moments when we have our children to ourselves to bring up the sensitive subject of substance abuse.


Seize teachable moments.
Sometimes you may have to create an opportunity to talk with your kids about this subject. But if you’re paying attention, you will also find that occasionally events occur that naturally lend themselves to conversations about alcohol and drugs. Your daughter informs you that someone offered her a shot to drink at a party. Your son’s sports hero is fined for doping.

If an opportunity arises for you to constructively address the issue of drugs and alcohol with your child, don’t put it off, thinking that you will raise the issue later. Seize the moment! Another opportunity like the one you have now may be a long time in coming. Better to say something now than to regret not having said it and see your child suffer the consequences.

Don’t underestimate the power of context and timing in getting your message through to your child.


Be sensitive to your child’s needs.
You want the conversation to be constructive. So make sure you conduct it in a way that is as comfortable as possible for a child.

For example, you don’t want to pick an awkward time for the conversation. Ask yourself whether this will be the time when your child will be most responsive to what you want to discuss. Is he in a hurry? Is he distracted by something else? Is he under stress or pressured by homework or exams? Is he tired?


Make sure it’s a two-way conversation.
Let’s be honest. There are few things so deadening as being cornered in a one-way conversation where all you can do is listen and hope that you don’t have to endure it too long. Similarly, imagine how your child feels when you’re the one doing the cornering!

It is important to give your child an opportunity to ask questions without having to fear judgment or have you constantly interrupt and tell him he shouldn’t think that way. Encourage him to open up and share his thoughts and how he is feeling about what you are saying. It helps to reinforce the message you want him to hear. What may appear to be straightforward to you may not be so clear to him.


Ask open-ended questions.
Ever tried to have a discussion with someone and all you got were one-word responses to your questions — “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe”? (If you have a teenager, you could probably add that these responses are interspersed with the occasional grunt!)

To make the conversation more meaningful for you and your child, think of how you can ask questions that require your child to think and engage with you. Open-ended questions often start with words like who, what, when, how, or why. Try questions like these with your children:

  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “Why do you think they did that?”
  • “What other options might there have been?”
  • “What do you think would have been the result?”
  • “What do you think you would do differently next time?”


Admit it when you’re stumped.
It is easy to be caught off guard by a question from your child that you are unsure how to answer. Rather than stumble through an awkward and incorrect response, it is better for you to acknowledge that you don’t know the answer and promise that you will look for information and talk about it again later.

This and the other guidelines for an effective conversation can help you make the most of the conversations you have with your kids about drugs and alcohol. After all, your goal is not to check off another parenting task completed. It is to really influence your child’s perspective on drugs and alcohol over time.

Over time — that is indeed how our conversations with our kids about this subject must take place. As I said earlier, we need to start early with our kids and then stick with it.


Using Words Wisely

  1. When was the last time I sat down and had a meaningful and unhurried conversation with my child?
  2. Do I have a tendency to criticize my child in front of others?
  3. What words have the greatest positive impact on my child? When was the last time I used those words?
  4. Have I been sharing my time with each of my children or been too focused on one?
  5. Do I really listen to my child, or have I tended to dominate conversations?

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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