Q: My five-year-old adores his grandfather, who smokes. My son pretends to smoke and draws pictures of people smoking. Should I have a talk with him about why smoking is bad? And how do I do that without making my dad sound like a bad guy? (I’ve asked him to quit, but it’s a lost cause.)
A: Imitating adults is a powerful way for children to learn. I understand your concern and your dilemma with respect to your dad. Have a chat with your dad, show him the pictures and tell him about your son pretending to smoke. He may get defensive at first, but hopefully he will understand how impressionable his grandson is. At the very least, your dad can try not to smoke in front of him and might even be willing to talk with him about his habit and how he’d like to stop, but cannot. I would not worry your son with too many details about how bad smoking is; he’s too young to understand. You might tell him that some people don’t like smoking because it smells bad and can make you cough.
If your dad isn’t willing to change his smoking behaviour, perhaps you and your son can come up with a different aspect of Grandpa he can focus on. Ask your son about some of the other things he likes about his grandfather and suggest he draw a picture of his grandfather doing one of those activities. When you see your son imitating smoking, gently redirect his play. The way you talk to him about this will change as he gets older and can better understand the health risks. Answer questions as they arise, but don’t give him more information than he needs.