We are honest with our kids, but we are also age-appropriate. I tend to explain things at a higher level than I think the kids will understand. This way, I can explain things in a way that is easiest for me. What I’ve found is they understand what I’m saying, and just ask questions on points they don’t understand, or ask what unfamiliar words mean. It’s more of the level of detail that changes. Our oldest daughter is a voracious reader. She will read the cereal box at breakfast if there’s nothing else at the table to read. Indeed, this is how she learned of Whitney Houston’s untimely passing. A newspaper was lying on the table, with an article about her death. The article mentioned her past drug problems, which prompted questions about drug use.
I’m a believer in taking your parenting opportunities as they come to you. It seems much easier to address these questions as they come up, and as the child is interested in learning about something, rather than sitting down and having “the talk” like it’s a lecture. In this case, the end of an extremely talented star’s career served as our child’s introduction to the tragic topic of drug abuse.
Smoking is another one of those difficult subjects. There are people in our family who smoke. Our kids have learned that smoking can make you sick and/or kill you. In fact, someone close to us died from lung cancer when the children were small. It’s hard for kids to understand why someone would choose to do something that is so bad for them, so it does help to talk about the disease of addiction. A quick internet search yields step-by-step information on how to talk to kids about addiction. It’s important to talk about it in a way that is compassionate toward those who smoke and to talk about addiction as a disease. Those of us who have lost someone to addiction know the anger that goes with the grief of the loss and wondering what could have been done differently. Perhaps a child who grows up knowing that addiction is a disease will be more likely to seek help for it later in life.