Though smoking has long been on the decline in this United States, it's inevitable that your preschooler will notice someone puffing away and ask you what they're doing. The preschool years are an especially impressionable time, so in addition to fielding your child's questions, you might even catch her pretending to smoke. As Circle of Moms member Julissa shares, this can be panic-inducing: “I saw my 3-year-old daughter with a rolled up paper in her mouth and she said, ‘Look Mami, I’m smoking like Papi!’ . . . . What can I tell her? Help!"
Many Circle of Moms members suggest setting a good example here by refraining from smoking yourself; having healthy role models to mimic should help snuff out a preschooler’s idea that smoking is cool. But you can't always prevent your child from being around other people who smoke. Here, Circle of Moms members share three other ways moms can protect little ones from the dangers of cigarettes.
1. Ask People Not to Smoke Near Your Child
Taking a stand against cigarettes sends a subtle message that it’s not good to smoke. Consequently, if someone is smoking around your preschooler, most moms — even those who smoke — say it’s okay to ask the smoker to stop or to move somewhere else. Adults need to speak up for children who aren’t able to defend themselves against something so detrimental to their health, Katherine says.
Because even if a person smokes outside, the smell of nicotine will linger on clothing, hair and skin. And third-hand smoke, the “cocktail of toxins that linger in carpets, sofas, clothes and other materials hours or even days after a cigarette is put out,” is a health hazard for infants and children,” September adds.
For these reasons, Sherre, a former smoker, says, “If I know someone [is] smoking around my child, I'll go off. Even if there's smoking around my nephew, I'll still say something. If I quit smoking to protect my baby, why would I let someone else try to harm him?”
Candi, too, asks smokers to stay away from her son — even when the smoker is her own mother. “My mom is a smoker, but I have always hated it,” she says. “I told her if she ever smoked around my kids, she would never see them again. I know it sounds harsh, but I have to protect my kids. Nobody was looking out for me growing up, and I dealt with inhaling more smoke than most smokers”
Of course, asking others to stop smoking has its limits, cautions a mom named Jackie-Rae. “You can help what [your child is] exposed to when it comes to family and close friends by removing her/him from a situation that you are not comfortable with,” she says. “But sometimes you cannot help what she [is] exposed to when it comes to everyday strangers. Like I wouldn't walk up to somebody at the mall smoking outside and tell them to put out their smoke because my kid is walking by."
2. Explain Why Smoking Is a Bad Habit
Precisely because it’s impossible to always avoid people who smoke, moms advise educating your preschooler about why smoking is an undesirable activity. Several moms even suggest explaining exactly how cigarettes can make a person sick.
Jackie recommends explaining to your child that everyone makes choices in life and that smoking is a bad one. "That’s what I told my 3 1/2 year old son about his dad, grandpa and grandma,” she says. The lesson has caught on, in that now her son tells his elders that smoking is “icky and bad!," sometimes even adding that "they stink."
When you have a close family member who smokes, Terri-lee suggests being upfront about it with your child, explaining that it's a bad habit, rather than trying to hide it. She feels moms will lose credibility if they lie about smoking, because children will eventually figure it out.
Here's her recommended script for Julissa and her 3-year-old: “Why does Papi do it? Because he is addicted to it. He didn’t know it was bad when he started, and now he is stuck with it. But it is bad for him. And he knows it, but he has made the choice to keep doing it. But we love you very much and don’t want you to be stuck doing something that could hurt you and is bad for you. So that’s why we are telling you it's bad."
3. Enlist Your Preschooler’s Help
Once children understand the harmful effects of smoking, moms can reinforce the lesson by encouraging their children to help their smoking relatives kick the bad habit. For example, after Michelle told her daughter how she hates that she has a hard time playing with her without having to catch her breath, and that she needs to take breaks for cigarettes, her daughter began trying to help Michelle quit smoking.
“My 5-year-old understands perfectly that what mommy is doing is not good ... and she and I are teaming up … to help me to cut down and try and kick it completely out,” Michelle D. shares, explaining that her daughter is gradually reducing the number of cigarettes allowed each day.
Seeing her mom want to quit smoking — but struggle — not only underscores the lesson that cigarettes are bad, but also is bringing mom and daughter closer together. “I love that she's helping me,” Michelle says. “After all, it's something I want to do for her.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.