By Caron Irwin, Child Development & Parenting Coach
Cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018 and it is now more prevalent in our homes and communities. If something is present in a child's environment, it is important to discuss it with them openly. Speaking about cannabis with children can feel like a “tricky” discussion for parents – it may make them feel uncomfortable. Parents may not know when or how to have the conversation in a way that is appropriate for their child or they are fearful of their child's questions and their ability to answer them.
It is important to not shy away from discussing and educating your child about cannabis. Children need accurate, reliable and age appropriate information about the world around them. This helps them feel secure, stay grounded in facts (not their amazing imaginations) and creates a culture in your home where it is okay to discuss “tricky” subjects.
When discussing cannabis with children, it is important to start this discussion early and have it often so the information you provide can expand as your child grows and develops.
Below are some tips and strategies to help parents as they navigate this conversation through the ages and stages of childhood:
Little Kids - Ages 3-8:
At this age, it is best to use natural moments when discussing cannabis. It is not necessary to have a formal “sit down chat”. Following your child’s lead and curiosity can provide meaningful opportunities to share age appropriate information. For this age group, parents should label cannabis - give it a name. This makes it concrete for children (not abstract), and the consistency of using the same label each time promotes trust and understanding. It is also helpful to provide a simple definition that covers the basics (such as what it is and who uses it); this gives your child some clarity.
Below are some examples of how you can approach this discussion with young children.
A) You are walking down the street and your child says:
“Mommy, what is that smell?”
“Oh yeah, I smell that too. That is cannabis.”
“What is cannabis?”
“Cannabis is a plant that adults use to help them relax or manage a medical challenge that they have. You can smoke or eat cannabis. We smell that smell because someone is smoking cannabis.”
B) You are walking down the street and there is a line up outside of a dispensary:
“Daddy, what is that store?”
“That is a cannabis shop. A place where adults can buy cannabis for themselves.”
C) Your child sees your Ally box:
“What is that?”
“This is my box that I keep my cannabis in. The items in this box are only for adults, so they are kept in here to keep them safe. Just like we keep the medicine in a special cupboard in mommy and daddy’s room and we keep the cleaning supplies out of reach. It is dangerous for kids to play with adult-only things. If you ever have any questions about this box, just ask.”
Big Kids – Age 9-12:
As children get older, it is important for parents to have more purposeful conversations about cannabis. Often parents may withhold talking about cannabis, especially if it is not present in a child’s immediate environment for fear that their child might get curious or scared. Children are more observant and advanced in their knowledge than we think. They often learn and hear about different topics in their environment – through their peers, media or overhearing a conversation. The information that they gain is not always accurate or contextualized. Children have great imaginations and, if there are holes or misinformation in their understanding, it can be more harmful. Therefore, it is important for children to receive good, quality and accurate information directly from their parents. Like other important topics, it can be helpful during this stage of childhood, to sit down and share some high level information about cannabis with your kids. This will help prepare them and ensure they have an accurate understanding.
Some areas to focus on are:
What is Cannabis?
Where do you get cannabis from?
Who uses cannabis?
How do people use cannabis? Outline some of the different methods – edibles, smoking, vaping etc.
Why do people use cannabis?
Share the varying names that can be used to label cannabis – Weed, pot etc.
At this age, it is important to discuss the benefits as well as the risks of using cannabis. Considering that children are in the egocentric stage of thinking, it can be impactful when you discuss the risks if you make them relevant to your child. For example, using cannabis can have a negative impact on a developing brain – kids' brains are constantly growing and developing, so it is not the time to use it, this is why it is only for adults.
Your children may have questions and you might not have the answers – this is okay! The best way to manage this is to acknowledge your child's’ question and share that you don’t know the answer but you will find out and get back to them. This shows your child that you are constantly learning and it also provides a future opportunity to bring up the topic again and see what your kids retained and if they have any other questions.
Parents should educate themselves on cannabis. Your research will ensure that the information you are sharing with you children is accurate, complete and current.
Maintain a neutral tone and approach to the conversation. Your children will be able to read into your individual opinions on cannabis, so your child should sense you are comfortable with the topic, and therefore willing to approach you with future discussions.
Children model what goes on in their environment; so, if you use cannabis, make sure you are modelling appropriate usage, as this will set the tone for your child's thoughts and opinions.
Caron Irwin, is a Canadian-based mother of three and founder of Roo Family where she and her team provide parents with comprehensive support to navigate the adventures and challenges of parenting and family life.
Caron holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Studies and is a Certified Child Life Specialist. She has over 10 years of experience supporting children and families through illness at Canada’s largest children’s hospital, The Hospital for Sick Children.
Caron has been featured by a range of top tier media including Toronto Star, Globe & Mail and CBCLife.ca, as a guest expert on CBC The National, Citytv Breakfast Television, CTV Ottawa, CTV Calgary and is the child development and parenting expert on CTV Your Morning providing support to parents as they navigate parenting through a pandemic on a regular basis. In addition to supporting parents in the community throughout COVID-19, Caron has provided guidance to working parents through corporate wellness programs in many different sectors. She has also positioned herself as a reliable resource in supporting parents through this time of uncertainty relying on her child development background and her previous hospital experience from The Hospital for Sick Children.