Can you protect your child from bad influences?

Last week, I was reading a magazine that covered the topic ‘how to quit smoking’. In the article, the author explained that most people have many difficulties quitting smoking and that they usually have to make several attempts before they are able to stop. Smoking is not only an emotional addiction: it is a physical addiction as well. Wow, giving up smoking seems like a long and windy road.

Growing up, I never had a strong need to belong to a certain group and apparently, this has saved me from being infected by this strange habit (how weird is this if you think about it: breathing in burnt air???). Therefore, I have never had to experience the ‘quitting smoking’ process myself. At the same time I know how easily children can fall into this trap, for several reasons.

That includes my own child!!!

The older my child gets, the more influenced she will become from outside forces. That honestly frightens me at times, because let’s face it, the world is not filled with only good guys! Babies usually stay at home, or stay with their babysitter or at a daycare center, whereas a toddler may go to kindergarten and a 4 or 5-year old will start going to primary school. And so on. The world of children expands each day and chances are that others will become more important than me.

I clearly remember the time my child was about 4 years old and she wanted to play with a friend at her house. She never played at home with this friend. The reason? At home, she received only one candy a day, and there she was allowed to eat as much candy as she wanted. If I’d been 4 years old, I would have wanted to live there!

The whole situation put me in a difficult position. I didn’t want my child to eat that much candy and at the same time, how could I expect anyone to follow my personal values and norms? This may lead to my child feeling lonely and seperated from the outer world. On top of that, she may also start disliking me because she is not allowed to eat much candy while her friends are allowed to eat any amount they want.

Modeling the desired behaviour is always a good idea. Not eating too much candy myself, no smoking if I don’t want my child to start smoking. Even though this is a very effective way of instilling values, you will also need a lot of patience. Then, you can only hope for the desired results.

I decided to do something else. In daily life, I often see situations I don’t want anyone to go through or be involved with, especially my own child. Situations like:

-a beggar out on the streets

-a picture of black lungs, due to smoking

-purposely destroyed public property

-ugly graffiti

-etc.

When I see situations like this and my daughter is with me, I always open a discussion with her. For example, I ask her if she has any idea why anyone would destroy public property? Or how people become beggars?

Because we’re discussing topics she is not ‘involved’ with, it is quite easy for her to take a different perspective. We discuss that some people destroy things simply because they are bored, so she will therefore learn that people have the need to ‘be active’ and seek solutions to satisfy their need. Together, we think of alternative ways to satisfy the need to be active, like being engaged in a conversation, being a member of a club, and so on. Being a part of a group, somewhere where they fit in is an important need for many new smokers. They unfortunately chose smoking as a solution, instead of buying new sneakers, new clothes or a fancy hair style.

By initiating discussions like these, I’m hoping to prepare her for the future. Whenever she may get tempted to join her friends into doing something ‘stupid’, she might come up with alternatives to satisfy their needs, without jeopardizing anyone’s health with cigarettes.

A while ago, I overheard my daughter telling her friend she really didn’t understand people who put those stinky cigarettes in their mouths. ‘The smell is disgusting, it costs money and on top of that, your health is at risk.’

A sigh of relief came over me. Things are going well now, but I will continue to stay alert.

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