"Mom, What's Crack Cocaine?"

Age-specific tips to answer this headline news question

"Mom, What's Crack Cocaine?"

When children and teens ask about news headlines, it is a wonderful opportunity to provide filtered age-appropriate information for younger children. And for teens, it's a chance to get into a moral discussion without coming across as preachy. Here are some age-appropriate suggestions for answering "What is crack cocaine?"

These are suggested age ranges but please adjust the discussion based on the maturity level of your child.

Age 2-6

In this age-range, there is no need to bring up news headlines unless the children ask. If they do ask, always be honest, but damper it down depending on the child's age and comprehension skills. The goal is to be truthful but not scary.

I like using the word "dizzy" at this age because little ones might be able to understand that best. We introduced this term in association with alcohol back when they asked, "What is beer? What are you drinking? Can I have that too?"

We replied, "Beer and wine have something in it that makes people a bit dizzy. If you have a little to drink, you get a little dizzy which can be fun, if you have a lot to drink, you get a lot dizzy and the part of your mind that tells you to make good decisions can stop working." We then model drinking one or two drinks in front of the kids. As we live near a University, we have ample opportunity to point out young adults who have had too much and have become way too dizzy.

For drugs, explain that there is something called "drugs" and if they can handle it, the difference between legal (prescribed to you from a doctor) and non-legal drugs. You can refer to those as ones that are "medicine" and ones that "are not medicine." Use the word "dizzy" to explain the effects, and "jail" to talk about consequences. I suggest using the word "penalty" to explain what happens to people who make a mistake and end up using a "bad drug" — "If someone uses a bad drug, the penalty is very serious. The person can be taken away from home and put into jail." You might have to describe jail as a kind of time-out where the person has to be away for some time and then can go back home.

Age 7-11

Again, be truthful but do not scare them. Not many children are experimenting with drugs at this age so you can periodically ask if anyone at school has mentioned drugs, and make sure to not freak out if they happen to answer "yes."

Start the discussion about what drugs are and their effects. Most schools do address this topic in this age-range. It is important at this age to set the tone with your kids that they could confess anything to you and you would stay calm. Yes, there might be some consequences to their actions, but you will hear them and be rational.

Age 12-17

I asked junior-high and high-school teacher Leah Schmalenberg to offer her advice on speaking about this with teens. She said, "I have over 100 young people asking me those questions every day. I think parents should answer as scientifically and factually as possible, followed by a moral discussion. Teaching Health Ed, I use that approach—science and fact first so the teens know the truth, then a follow-up discussion based on their family's values."

Do you and your partner know your family's values? This would be a great time to discuss these and make sure all adults in the family are on the same page.

Headlines like the one mentioned above are a wonderful opportunity to have a deep conversation with your teens about the morality of taking drugs without coming across as being on their case, nosey, or preachy. It is VERY important to be honest about the headlines, and at this age, it's okay to be a little scary.

Take an approach that discusses all the negative things that could happen. Try comments like this, "Have you heard about what is happening with the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford? We can't assume the drug allegations are true until they have proven to be, but wow, is it super serious if they are? Wouldn't it be a shame for him to have to lose the job he seems to really like? AND he would probably have to go to jail? He still is so young and has a wife and children—let's hope this isn't true. Jail is a horrible place! And you know what, after people get out of jail, for even small things, it sucks that they can't travel out of the country. (Why?) Because you won't be able to get a passport—can you imagine not being able to go to anywhere in the States? Or the rest of the world? EVER!"

It is important to get the teen's brain firing by asking questions that get them to imagine consequences or how something will feel; "How do you think it would feel to never be able to go to Florida if all your friends go there for study break? Or down the road, if you got a great job opportunity out of the country but had to turn it down—this kind of thing sticks with you for life."

This is also an excellent opportunity to talk about how social media affects this story, and how to be safe with social media. "I guess you have to expect that whatever you do—drinking, drugs, piling too many kids into a car, is going to end up on camera." Talk about specific strategies to be safe and stay rational.

You can also use this as a chance to discuss your regrets about over-drinking or if you experimented or used drugs. But please don't gross your kids out with too much information! Use an anecdote about being scared, feeling out of control, panicked, or a moment where you decided enough was enough.

If you would like some book recommendations on this topic, I will post links to those on my facebook page.


Andrea Nair is a former junior-high and high-school teacher, now psychotherapist and parenting educator.



Does "Attachment Parenting" Ensure Secure Attachment?

Improving the connection between parent and child

Does "Attachment Parenting" Ensure Secure Attachment?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wanted to know as much as I could about starting off on the right foot with my baby and, given my background as a psychotherapist, how to create a secure attachment with my child.

I discovered the term "attachment parenting" and thought, Perfect! If I do the tenets prescribed by Dr. Sears, I will ensure my child is cooperative, resilient, gets along well with others, has high self-esteem, optimal development, fewer tantrums, and will be more empathetic.

Except it wasn't so perfect.

As I got further into my parenting educator career, I heard weepy sleep-deprived mothers describing feelings of shame about not wanting to breastfeed and co-sleep. I saw toddlers be violent without a parent intervening, and parents reduced to quivering emotional-wrecks if their child had a tantrum. I felt the need to re-evaluate whether the attachment parenting tenets as listed by Dr. Sears, actually were helpful for parents. More importantly for myself, did following these rules foster MY well-being and MY mental health?

I discovered numerous parents admitting guiltily that they just couldn't keep up with the tenets. One more confidently said, "I am an attachment parenting drop-out. I don't need that gold star."

Thankfully, the research clearly indicates that secure attachment happens when parents are keenly attuned to their babies and are fulfilling their needs. Often fulfilling those needs does require close proximity, but that does not have to happen with baby-wearing or co-sleeping. Babies do best on all scales when they come to learn that their parents are listening, are there for them, and provide ample physical touch.

The challenges I see with parents following the attachment parenting tenets revolve around parental burnout and child behaviour. Parents report sleep deprivation and not having enough alone time to regroup or recharge. When families come to me for help with their child's behaviour, I see well intentioned parents scooping in too quickly to rescue wailing toddlers, and not setting limits on a child's aggressive behaviour.

Babies, toddlers, and parents are not at their best when sleep-deprived. In fact, if I had to pick the number one skill for parents to have to increase their connection with their child and reduce defiance, is to learn how to not be exhausted, and harder yet, do what it takes to not be exhausted.

When parents are rested, they can hear their own intuition which provides the best advice out there.

I smiled when I saw director and writer Sarah Polley post this on her twitter, "...PLEASE make a film about Mommy Wars! Attachment parents and sleep doulas getting in shoving matches!" We do not need to go to war against each other—we need to help each other be rested. If you can feel good about baby-wearing and co-sleeping and you and your partner feel rested and connected, then go for it. If you do not, please know that secure attachment will happen more if you are rested than if you co-sleep and feel badly about it.

The primary goal of secure attachment is to meet the child's needs. What can happen when a baby becomes a toddler is that the parent can start forgetting that and use the attachment philosophy as a means of meeting her own needs. I love this quote from Laura Markham, PhD, "Unfortunately, trying to control a child—rather than setting limits with empathy and focusing on a close relationship—results in a rebellious, uncooperative toddler." She goes on to remind parents that we need to respond to long-term as well as short-term needs that includes setting empathetic limits.

When parents scoop in to rescue their children every time they experience frustration, pain, or an intense feeling, that child might start to learn that she is not capable of managing her own frustration, she does NOT NEED to manage her own frustration (because a parent will jump in to save the day), and that big feelings are scary and should be avoided. So the need of the parent to get their child to stop crying trumps the need of the child to develop coping skills through learning by consequences.

Again, Dr Markham so clearly states, "Giving in to kids' demands because we can't bear their unhappiness isn't attachment parenting, it's irresponsible parenting. It gives kids the message that their sad and angry feelings are so unbearable they must be fended off at all costs and often that other people's needs aren't important."

Secure attachment happens with attunement and meeting the child's needs—breastfeeding, co-sleeping or baby-wearing notwithstanding. If these tenets suit the family, are helping the goal of meeting a child's needs, and are preserving the mental health of the parents, then please do use them. If the tenets make you feel badly, please find a way to connect with your child that feels natural for you. 

Attachment parenting is a philosophy to achieve secure attachment with a child. It is not a set of "shoulds" that will guarantee a positive connection between parent and child. It is not helpful for a family (usually moms) to do "attachment parenting" no matter if the parent or child is struggling, with hopes of assuring happy children down the line. This hope may not transpire.

It is important for parents to take time to consider their parenting goals and learn the methods to meet them. I do provide great resources to help you achieve your goals over on my facebook page.


Growing A Strong Relationship With Young Kids

Cityline's Tracy Moore explains how she stays connected with her young children

Growing A Strong Relationship With Young Kids

Staying connected with our young children amidst the many challenges of this time period can be hard. Parents at home experience the endurance of repetitive feeding, pottying, cleaning, and tantrum times. Parents who work go through trying to get young ones up and out the door, peeling shrieking kids off a leg, the often-present mommy-guilt when it is time to say "good-bye," and the challenge of staying connected without being with the children throughout the day.

In order to provide strategies to help keep families connected when both parents work, I enlisted the help of career mom Tracy Moore, host of City TV's Cityline. Curious how she manages to get out the door, be rested and alert for her demanding career, yet close with her two young children, I asked her to explain how she stays connected.

The first thing Moore spoke about was making working out a priority in order to "stay sane." She realized that in order to feel content when she is with her kids, she had to find a way to get a workout done. This gives her the boost she needs each day.

1. Consider what is needed to feel good, and make a plan to achieve that.

Knowing working out is very important; Moore spent money on equipment, MADE the time happen in her schedule--which is to get up very early in the morning, and she continually pushes herself to work out every day. I love reading Moore's twitter posts (@TracyCityline) with her honesty about the difficulty and "nuttiness" it takes to accomplish her training goals. She said, "You have to do things that seem crazy if you know they will keep you so sane."

Curious if this early morning routine is hard to pull off, I asked if anything has to give in order to actually get this done each day. Moore quickly responded, "I will do anything to get a good eight hours of sleep. I'm not up watching TV or hanging out with people at night; I'm in bed sleeping!"

It is VERY important to put your rest and sanity-savers first. Rested, happy people can connect better.

2. Carve out individual time with each child in a way that suits his/her personality.

As Moore so carefully planned her workout time to be before kids wake up and at home, she is alert and refreshed when her four-year-old son Sidney wakes up. Moore beamed speaking about this time when she and her son get to spend about an hour playing together. Sidney expects to get his mom all to himself and when the time is over, "He is in such a good mood." Moore explained, "It is a time we treasure."

Moore and her two-year-old daughter Eva connect more in the evening. Where Sidney wants to play with his mom, Moore realizes Eva just wants to be in her space. Eva follows her mom around while the laundry and other house-jobs get done, with their evening ending with Moore putting the next day's Cityline outfit while Eva takes her turn with her mom's accessories and shoes.

3. Make changes to increase the time with each child.

Decisions such as work-home locations, work hours, and non-work activities affect the connection ability with kids. Like me, Moore made a point of choosing to live ten minutes away from work. She also scheduled her day so that she is awake before her kids wake up, and home before they get home at 4pm. If parents have to be away from their children for much of the day, attachment bridges can be used.

4. Carefully choose activities for young children.

Young children do not need piano lessons, art classes, soccer or French tutoring. Individuals have their whole life to choose things they love and put effort into becoming accomplished at a skill. It is just not necessary to over-schedule young children, particularly if parents are away from them during the day. Parents who are at home like to enrol their children in activities to help enjoy the day, but for families where the parents work, really consider if a particular activity is improving the relationship.

Moore feels her children are not happier when they are in an event, "I don't put that huge of value on creating activities. I'm all about the everyday parent-child connection, not I went to soccer and saw my son get a goal." Moore said, "I love the moments when we're not rushed and having to get places. Simplicity for us!"

5. Use the time with children wisely.

Children are able to get used to almost any type of schedule if it is consistent and predictable. If a parent only has a short time with his/ her child, make that time count. Often kids and parents see each other at the end of the day when everyone is tired and over stimulated. Take time to listen to the child without judgment, and ask specific questions rather than, "So how was your day?"

Learn how each child likes to connect. Moore talked about how she pays attention to what her kids need day to day, realizing that they often need different things.

Children are born with an open heart, and it is our job as parents to sustain that openness. If a parent only has half an hour with a child: focus on attunement, active listening, and using "I see you..." statements ("I see you putting your dish away without me asking! That is so helpful.") These are all messages to the child that they are valued and they matter.