Kids learn by example
They get their cues on how to behave in different situations by watching their parents and trusted adults.
About modeling behaviours
As young children, our kids model our behaviour, they mimic our actions, repeat our words and even role-play what we do – the good and the not so good.
Have you ever listened to a toddler talking on a pretend phone? Or, perhaps you have watched the interactions of two young children sharing an ‘adult’ conversation at a make-believe tea party, that sounds remarkably like their parents.
This ‘play-acting’ is not only enjoyable; it shows that our children are modeling the adult behaviour they experience in their everyday lives. By modeling your actions, they are interpreting how you feel about family values, interactions with others and how you react during both happy and stressful times.
As children grow, they still notice everything, but with a different lens. Instead of just mimicking adults, they begin to deem the behaviours and actions of adults – particularly their parents, as acceptable. After all, “If mom and dad are doing this, it must be OK.“
These have been challenging years for many of us – parents and kids alike – and the mental wellness of everyone has been affected by the stress of the pandemic and the uncertainty that lingers. Adults and kids are just trying to manage their way through the world, and stress and anxiety levels have risen in all age levels.
46% of Canadians indicated that their perceived stress level was somewhat or much worse than it was prior to COVID-19. Also, those adults living with children under 15 (54%) were more likely to report that their stress levels had gotten worse since the start of the pandemic, compared with Canadians not living with children (43%). (Statscan – Canadian Social Survey (CSS)2021)
It is important for parents to be aware that they may have increased their own substance use to deal with their stress; by drinking more alcohol, increasing their cannabis use, or self-medicating in other ways as a way to deal with difficult feelings.
How a parent uses alcohol or drugs can influence their children’s decisions about their own use of substances.
Kids may notice the behaviour changes in their parents that can accompany increased use of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, or prescription drugs and as a consequence, might be learning that using substances is an appropriate way to cope with their own uncomfortable feelings.
These behaviours may simply have been triggered by stressful times, and parents may have every intention of returning to the safer levels of substance use, but their kids may not see it that way.
They may see or hear mom or dad expressing more anger, less patience, sleeping more, or not as engaged as they usually are with family members. Perhaps they hear their parent sharing with a family member or friend, “I am so stressed. I need a glass of wine, a beer, a smoke, a toke!” or, “I can hardly wait for mommy wine time.”
What kids hear is this: “When I feel stressed, a glass of wine, or another beer or a toke will help.”
Parents are just trying to do their best to keep it all together through tough times – they may not even be aware that they are transferring these messages to their children.
Feeling guilty for the unhealthy choices we may make in difficult times can only add to our stress. But it is a good idea to be aware of those choices and understand the consequences that may follow. It is also important to be aware that our children may interpret those choices as good ways to manage stress, anxiety and other emotions.
Be honest with your children if you have made some unhealthy choices around substance use. Explain that you are stressed and that you are aware that you’ve made unhealthy choices at times. Ask your children how they are feeling and discuss with them what you can do as a family to reduce stress or anxiety. Brainstorm some healthy things you can do together and always be sure to celebrate more positive choices.
Learning healthy coping strategies and finding healthy and supportive ways to balance life during the good times and the bad can be beneficial for you and your children.
Here are some tips to help you:
- Get to know Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines as well as Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines.
- Talk with a medical professional and get the support and guidance you need to cope with your stress and anxiety in healthier ways.
- Connect with family and friends. Ask them what they are doing to cope.
- Take care of yourself – regular self care is helpful for diffusing stress and anxiety Reset, relax, recharge and recover!