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Prevention Day: The best time to start a conversation with your kids? Today.

Today, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will mark its annual Prevention Day with a new “Talk. They Hear You” Public Service Announcement. As an educator and a mom, I applaud SAMHSA for their efforts to encourage families to “Start the Talk” with their new online role play tool for parents of children ages 9-15.

For me though, I believe that the conversation and foundation for making healthy choices when it comes to underage drinking can start even earlier in the home with kids starting at an early age.

Professionally and personally I know that the best conversations with children happen when you are discussing instead of lecturing. More importantly, messages need to be repeated over time. Talking with intent, consistently and honestly with children helps foster a culture that children can depend on as they grow older and face choices about underage drinking.

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility #TalkEarly initiative empowers parents to start the conversation about alcohol and underage drinking, early, through conversation and modeling of healthy, balanced behaviors. As parents we recognize that our children will be faced with choices, and may even experiment as they grow older. While we can role play how interactions with children might go, our true influence as parents comes from the honest connection and un-scripted conversations we have with our children.

Conversations not Lectures

Anthony Wolf, Ph.D, believes that talking to kids about the consequences of underage drinking “is a conversation, not an argument.” The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility provides tools for parents, across social media, in tool kits and blogs and with partners to help facilitate frequent conversations with children starting from an early age. Conversations should be honest, with facts, but as Dr. Wolf suggests, there is no reason to try to convince children that something is good or bad. Focus instead on leading with your perspective and the reasoning behind it.

“Parents have more influence on their children when there is a well-developed connection” according to Dr. Wolf. Early and frequent conversations help families create a connection and foundation for discussing difficult topics so that, as children grow, they can draw on the connection they’ve established with their parents to talk with them when difficult choices present themselves.

Model Healthy, Balanced Behaviors

Beyond the conversations, parents need to remember that not only do children listen to us, but they see us. They notice our actions, our behaviors and pick up on our own insecurities. Instead of hoping that a one-time conversation about underage drinking will have the desired impact on your child, being mindful about conversations and actions over time will create a solid foundation and toolkit for our children as they grow.

Modeling healthy, balanced behaviors starts with us as parents, but thanks to initiatives like #TalkEarly, Ask, Listen, LearniDecide with Bella Thorne and Girl Talk, can inspire and involve children starting in the early years.

Resources for families and kids to promote a healthy lifestyle:

•   Take the Ask, Listen, Learn pledge to stay active and lead a healthy lifestyle

•   Share your smart choices as part of the iDECIDE campaign with Bella Thorne

•   Play online games to encourage a healthy lifestyle

•   Conversation Cheat Sheets

•   Parents can stay on top of current research and information by following The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility on social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube and Pinterest.

Elena Sonnino is a National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certified teacher that served an instructional leader and educator in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for twelve years. She is a member of the #TalkEarly Blog Ambassador and is a contributor for The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility education program team. Elena blogs at

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility or any Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility member.*