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Disciplining a Child With Substance Abuse & Behavior Problems

A Q&A Session With the Dual Diagnosis Clinic Team

It can be hard to accept that your child has a drug problem, but this is a time when giving the right kind of discipline is more important than ever. Here's some guidance from the therapists and counselors at the Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Riley at IU Health.

Question: Do children with substance abuse and behavior problems require a different kind of discipline?

Answer: Yes. A teen who has a substance abuse problem requires more monitoring than a teen who does not. Your margin of error is thinner, so you must stay involved in their life to keep them safe. Also, you must set boundaries and be consistent with them. All these things are important when disciplining all children, but they are even more important when dealing with a child who has substance issues.

Question: What techniques can a parent use to control their emotions when disciplining their child?

Answer: Take some time to calm down before you talk to your child. When you are disciplining your child, take a break if you feel that your anger or disappointment is getting out of control. Once you feel calm again, proceed with the discussion.

Question: What is the best way to deal with a child who perpetually lies?

Answer: We advise parents to take away things like phones, computers and other privileges. It's also important to independently verify the facts before concluding that your child is lying. If you discover that they were actually telling the truth, praise them for their good behavior. If they were lying, tell them you are disappointed.

Question: What communication tips do you have for parents?

Answer: Give your child your full attention; make sure they aren't high on a substance when you're trying to have an important conversation; limit distractions; have regular check-in times; and try to carve out a time for normal parent/child activities (regardless of whether or not they are currently being disciplined).

Question: Is there a way to know if a punishment is too harsh or too lax?

Answer: The more natural the punishment the better. What we mean is: Does the punishment fit the "crime"? If necessary, use positive and negative reinforcement, and ask other parents how they usually discipline their children for particular misdeeds.

For more discipline advice, you can also read more on general principles of discipline.

If your child is struggling with substance use or addiction, we can help. Visit the psychiatry Dual Diagnosis Clinic to learn more about our program or call us at 317.948.3481.

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