20 Tips for Starting Conversations About Health and Wellbeing

How do you start conversations about healthy behaviors and decision making? We know that conversations with kids are critical to prevention education, underage drinking prevention, and helping them learn how to make healthy choices. In fact, when it comes to underage drinking, parents are the #1 influence on their kids’ decisions to drink—or not to drink—alcohol, and when conversations between kids and caregivers go up, underage drinking rates go down. 

As your family prepares for a new school year, the Ask, Listen, Learn team wants you to feel prepared to have conversations about healthy behaviors with your kids. We queried Responsibility.org’s Educational Advisory Board and asked them for their tips on starting conversations with kids about health, wellbeing, and of course, prevention education.   

Finding time, using lessons learned from last year, working together to set goals, and talking about peer pressure are just some of the things our education experts mentioned as ways to #Take20WithKids. Read on for their 20 tips on starting and continuing to have these important conversations as we settle into a new school year. 

Set the Scene 

  1. There are no rules for when to talk or engage with your children. But limit distractions so they know this is an important conversation. 
  1. Try to ask questions that are open-ended such as ones that ask your tween to briefly explain, share something that happened, or describe a feeling they had. These types of questions make sharing emotions easier. 
  1. If your child doesn’t want to talk, compromise! Ask them to suggest a time to talk. This allows them some control over the situation and could make it easier to start the conversation going forward. Don’t feel pressured to cover all these topics in one long session. It’s better to plan for several shorter conversations. 

 Talk Early and Often  

  1. Open your conversation by asking your kids for some examples of decisions they can make that would be healthy and/or would help them continue to feel good about themselves. 
  1. Ask your child to reflect on who their close friends are and some of the qualities they like most about them. How can they make decisions that prioritize those qualities? 
  1. Connect kids’ positive and negative choices to their outcomes last school year. Ask how they would or could apply what they learned to this school year.   
  1. As a caretaker, recognize challenges and celebrate good decision-making. What are some of the situations your child might face and the decisions they might make that would be healthy and/or would help them to continue to feel good about themselves? Let them know how proud you are of them. 
  1. Talk with your child about situations that may come up that they think might be challenging or uncomfortable. Help them think through their decision-making process. 

Model Healthy Decision Making  

  1. Model healthy behaviors to encourage your kids to make healthy decisions. Don’t be afraid to share the “why” behind your actions so they can understand your choices. 
  1. Volunteering or service work is a great way to model healthy choices. Then talk with your child about some ways they might consider helping others. Have they thought of volunteering or service for others? How do they think they might grow from those experiences? 
  1. Practice some opening comments or questions for talking to a trusted adult, such as, “Can we set aside some time to chat?” Or “What sort of tough choices did you have to make while growing up?” Roll play how you may ask for advice as well. 
  1. Show your tween what you might do if a friend comes to you for advice  about something serious and says not to tell anyone. What are some next steps you can take together?   

Set Goals Together   

  1. Have a discussion with your child about what their goals are for the new school year and how to set them. How are they going to manage their time, and what do they consider to be the most important things to focus on each day? 
  1. What are your kids hoping to achieve at home, school, or in other activities?  Encourage them to be realistic! How can you then relate the goals back to healthy decision making? 

Discuss their Developing Brains, Alcohol, and Peer Pressure! 

  1. Start a conversation by asking your kids what they already know about the ways alcohol can affect their brain development. 
  1. Ask your child to verbalize the meaning behind your expectations by asking: why should you not drink alcohol before you are 21?  What can we learn together about how alcohol can affect their brain, body, and behavior? 
  1. Roll play a scenario as you talk about peer pressure – Ask them what they might do if a friend at a party hands them alcohol and tells them to drink it?   
  1. Inquire how their friends talk about drinking alcohol. Positively (it’s cool, everyone does it, etc.), negatively (it’s bad for you, can make you sick, etc.), or do they not mention it?  
  1. Have a discussion about social media and monitor your kids’ accounts. What kinds of posts and messages about alcohol do kids see on social media?  What is your child’s takeaway from these messages ? Discuss how this could influence or impact them.  

Recognize a Job Well Done 

  1. Find the joy! What was something your tween did that made them feel good and happy? Remember what brings joy and use that to bring together all the tips and tricks above. 

We hope our collective knowledge, pooled together from our own real-life experiences, provides you with some new tips and tricks for having important conversations with your kids as they grow and mature. As always, thank you for all the hard work you do to empower them to say “YES” to a healthy lifestyle and “NO” to underage drinking and underage cannabis use. 

~ Responsibility.org’s Educational Advisory Board 2023