Children might be drawn to smoking and chewing tobacco for any number of reasons (e.g., to look cool, act older, lose weight, win cool merchandise, seem tough, feel independent, etc.). But moms and dads can combat those draws and keep children from trying/getting addicted to tobacco. Establish a good foundation of communication with your children early on to make it easier to work through tricky issues like tobacco use.
If you smell smoke on your youngster's clothing, try not to overreact. Ask about it first. Maybe she has been hanging around with peers who smoke or just tried one cigarette. Many children do try a cigarette at one time or another but don't go on to become regular smokers. Additional signs of tobacco use include:
- bad breath
- decreased athletic performance
- greater susceptibility to colds
- shortness of breath
- stained teeth and clothing (also signs of chewing tobacco use)
- throat irritation
Sometimes even the best foundation isn't enough to stop children from experimenting with tobacco. It may be tempting to get angry, but it's more productive to focus on communicating with your youngster. Here are some tips that may help:
1. Ask what children find appealing — or unappealing — about smoking. Be a patient listener.
2. Discuss it in a way that doesn't make children fear punishment or judgment.
3. Discuss ways to respond to peer-pressure to smoke. Your youngster may feel confident simply saying "no." But also offer alternative responses such as "It will make my clothes and breath smell bad" or "I hate the way it makes me look."
4. Emphasize what children do right rather than wrong. Self-confidence is a youngster's best protection against peer pressure.
5. Encourage a meeting with your doctor, who can be supportive and may have treatment plans.
6. Encourage children to get involved in activities that prohibit smoking, such as sports.
7. Encourage children to walk away from friends who don't respect their reasons for not smoking.
8. Establish firm rules that exclude smoking and chewing tobacco from your house and explain why: Smokers smell bad, look bad, and feel bad, and it's bad for everyone's health.
9. Explain how much smoking governs the daily life of children who start doing it. How do they afford the cigarettes? How do they have money to pay for other things they want? How does it affect their friendships?
10. Help your youngster develop a quitting plan and offer information and resources, and reinforce the decision to quit with praise.
11. If you hear, "I can quit any time I want," ask your youngster to show you by quitting cold turkey for a week.
12. It's important to keep talking to children about the dangers of tobacco use over the years. Even the youngest youngster can understand that smoking is bad for the body.
13. Many times, children aren't able to appreciate how their current behaviors can affect their future health. So talk about the immediate downsides to smoking: less money to spend on other pursuits, shortness of breath, bad breath, yellow teeth, and smelly clothes.
14. Read, watch TV, and go to the movies with your children. Compare media images with what happens in reality.
15. Resist lecturing or turning your advice into a sermon.
16. Show that you value your children' opinions and ideas.
17. Stick to the smoking rules you've set up. And don't let a youngster smoke at home to keep the peace.
18. Stress the natural rewards that come with quitting (e.g., freedom from addiction, improved fitness, better athletic performance, improved appearance, etc.).
19. Try not to nag. Ultimately, quitting is the smoker's decision.
20. Uncover what appeals to your youngster about smoking and talk about it honestly.
Children are quick to observe any contradiction between what their moms and dads say and what they do. Despite what you might think, most children say that the adult whom they most want to be like when they grow up is a parent. So, if you're a smoker, (a) admit to that you made a mistake by starting to smoke and that if you had it to do over again, you'd never start, and (b) quit smoking. It's not simple and it may take a few attempts and the extra help of a program or support group. But your children will be encouraged as they see you overcome your addiction to tobacco.
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