NO JUDGEMENT HERE, IT MAY BE A PART OF HOW YOU MANAGE YOUR STRESS, JUST REMEMBER TO ASK YOURSELF THESE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.

Stress is running high in many houses. We’re trying to anticipate what is happening with the new school year in the fall, while figuring out how to earn a living and take care of our families during this COVID-19 pandemic. For many folks that means accessing unemployment benefits and community support. The kids also don’t have many options this summer other than to stick close to home, and that means parents often don’t have a break from parenting. Then there is the added stress of trying to find child care, it is a lot of pressure.  

If you’re on social media, you can see it’s pretty common to turn to substances to take the edge off, or at least joke about it. Whether it’s a glass of wine or beer, an edible or practicing mindfulness, the choices you make now in how you are present with the children in your life are more important than ever. 

Colorado is a substance friendly state, and many legal substances have remained available during the COVID-19 pandemic. No judgement here, it may be a part of how you manage your stress, but there are three things everyone should ask themselves when considering using a substance while taking care of a child/children to keep them safe. 

Who would take the kids to the hospital if you were incapacitated in any way?

It’s a good rule of thumb and it is the worst case scenario. Driving under the influence of any mind or body altering substance can be dangerous for everyone in and around the vehicle. Make sure there is an adult in the home who has the capacity to get behind the wheel and care for the kids to help prevent something awful from happening.  

That special someone should understand the developmental and physical needs of your kids based on age, ability and need. This may look like having the reaction time needed to keep a toddler off the stairs. Or ensure a baby is being fed and changed consistently, and when needed. Perhaps meeting the emotional needs of an older child. Oftentimes, the very escape that is desired from substance use (including alcohol), is what makes taking care of the kids safely so difficult. Substance use alone does not equal unfit or unsafe parenting. Remember, this is a judgement-free zone. 

If the answer to this question isn’t you, it’s time to make a plan to have a responsible caregiver present during and after use. Edible THC products remain active a lot longer than many people suspect, so plan for several hours after use. 

Is everything stored where the kids can’t get it? 

Substance use may have increased in your home over these last couple of months or become a new normal. This likely means it is around the house more. Again no judgement, we all need to make sure substances are properly stored all the time, just like dangerous household cleaning items. This may include locking alcohol in a cupboard or pantry, or locking medications or THC products in a locking bag or box.

Keeping substances out of reach of children and young people is important, and is an easy step in creating a safe environment for your family.

What are you doing to take care of yourself right now?  

Parenting is stressful under regular circumstances and this new normal may be here for awhile. There are a variety of ways to take care of yourself that doesn’t include “checking out.” Find a place you can retreat to when you start to feel stressed. Even if it is locking yourself in the bathroom or going for a short walk, give yourself permission to take at least 5 minutes alone, assuming children are in a safe place, like a baby in a crib, alone on their back.  Finding ways to take care of yourself can make all the difference in reclaiming some balance and help you be the parent you want to be for your kids. 

Adulting is hard, especially with kids around. Much has changed in this new normal, but the questions to ponder at any point when substances are used, including alcohol, have remained the same. It is up to all of us to make smart choices to keep kids safe. 

Whether you are a single parent who can’t remember the last time you had a moment to yourself or a neighbor helping out watching the kids, anytime you’re considering using a substance while taking care of a child/children, it’s important to ask yourself these three simple questions to keep kids safe. 

Visit SmartChoicesSafeKids.org to get more information to guide us all through the choices we have to make at every age and stage of life to keep kids safe.

And, if after asking yourself these three simple questions, you are starting to think that you need to talk. Call the Colorado Crisis Services 1-844-493-TALK (8255),a support line for anyone affected by a mental health, substance use or emotional crisis. It’s ok to admit that you are struggling. Crisis counselors are standing by.

If you or a loved one needs support, just text, call, or walk-in 24/7/365.

Anne Auld is the director of education for Illuminate Colorado. Auld has worked with children and families for more than 20 years, training parents, professionals and community members on subjects including strengthening families, safe storage, child sexual abuse prevention and much more.

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