Being a parent is not done without fear – fear of making the wrong decisions, fear of not being able to protect your child from harm, etc.

The biggest fear of all, though, for most parents is the prospect of having to bury their own child.  Drug abuse, alcoholism, overeating, gambling, sex, and other destructive behaviors all increase the risk of danger and premature death.

So how do you plant the seeds in your children so they not only make the right decisions while you’re raising them but continue to make the right decisions after they’ve flown the coup?

Start Young & Keep Conversations Light

Contrary to what many parents believe, it’s never too early to start having conversations with your child about various harmful behaviors.

Life presents all types of opportunities to bring things up naturally in conversations.

If you’re waiting for the ‘perfect age’ to sit down and have a long, drawn-out conversation you may very well miss your window of opportunity.

Teen thoughts and perceptions are an accumulation of learned behaviors from childhood development; if your child isn’t already comfortable talking to you about these topics, you’re going to have a very tough time getting through.

Aside from the level of comfort, you have to take the time to consider the attention span of a teen.

Does it really sound beneficial to corner them into having an in-depth conversation about the facts of life?

If you’re not able to have comfortable or frequent conversations with your teen about the dangers and consequences of life’s poisons, how effective will they be?

When you’re with your child, do you…

Ever see a homeless person with a bottle in his/her hand?  See a person smoking either in person or on a television show or in a movie?

See public displays of affection?  Hear about drug raids or a meth lab explosion on the news?

These and other situations are perfect opportunities to initiate light conversations with your child.

The earlier they begin to perceive these behaviors as ‘not acceptable’ the more likely it is that they will hold on to those perceptions as they go through life.

Answer Questions Honestly and Refrain from Judgment

While there are certain developmental consistencies among children, each individual child’s brain develops at its own pace.  As such, it’s difficult to anticipate what questions your child will have.

Remember, though, that ALL questions are good; it means that your child is comfortable speaking with you and confident in the knowledge you’re offering.

If your child is asking questions, just be as honest as possible while keeping the conversation in terms they can understand.

Be careful not to criticize your child’s questions or respond in a manner that makes him/her feel stupid or ashamed for having asked something.

This is the fastest way to diminish trust and will forever dampen your ability to have an open conversation with your child.

Teach Them That Honesty is the Best Policy

Children have accidents, they do things they’re not supposed to do, and they test boundaries on a regular basis.  It’s in their nature; it’s a part of growing up.  The question is:  How do you respond?

Children learn how to respond to fear at a very early age.  If they are confronted with anger and punishment every time they make a mistake, they will learn to try to hide what they’ve done.

If they are confronted with patience, understanding, and a lesson to be learned they will be comfortable coming to you and telling you their mistake.

For example, if your child breaks something trying to get to an item with which he/she has no business playing, take the opportunity to explain rules and consequences in a patient and respectable tone.  Once you’ve spoken with your child logically, have him/her help you clean up the mess in whatever capacity he/she can.

Responding to mistakes in this manner will not only plant the seeds of healthy communication in friendships and relationships, but it will also help to guarantee that your child develops a trust for you that will last through his/her teen years and into adulthood.

Children who trust their parents to be understanding and nonjudgmental are much more likely to discuss thoughts and feelings before they turn into actions.

If you’re a parent whose children trust you and your advice, you will never have to wonder what the ‘perfect time’ will be to have one or more conversations with them; they will come to you.