Many people are deeply affected by a loved one’s addiction, but children often carry the baggage for the rest of their lives. They’re less likely to really understand what’s going on at the time, and the resulting trauma during their parent’s addiction can be difficult for them to process.
At The River Source, we think family involvement is critical in rehab and recovery whenever possible, and part of that means involving every member of the family in the journey to sustainable recovery. Here’s some advice about how to talk to children about addiction in a way they can understand and process what’s going on.
Preparing for and Opening the Conversation
The environment in which an impactful conversation happens can play a big role in how it’s received. When preparing to talk with a child about addiction, try to find an environment for it where the child will be comfortable and feel that they’re in a position to engage with you. Choose a time when the child isn’t tired, stressed, or upset. Get down on their level physically, and use terms that are simple for them to understand without sugarcoating the reality of the situation.
Perhaps most importantly, consider how their parent’s addiction has impacted them specifically — whether that’s been in their social life, at school, at home, or elsewhere — and be ready to listen just as much as you speak.
The Important Messages to Communicate
There are some messages that children in particular need to hear when learning about their parent’s addiction that can be crucial to healthy coping. Notably, the National Association for Children of Addiction recommends that any discussion about a parent’s addiction includes four key sentiments:
- “Addiction Is a Disease”
- “Your Parent’s Addiction Isn’t Your Fault”
- “You Aren’t Alone in This”
- “You Can Talk About the Problem”
A child who sees their parent altered by drugs or alcohol will be present for physical and/or emotional conflict. It can be difficult to put that into context for children, who may not know how to process their emotions and question if their parent’s actions are their own fault.
If you explain to the child how addiction is a disease, it can make more sense to them. You can also explain that while there is no cure, it can be treated, and their parent is working on that treatment. Assure them that this disease isn’t their fault, and there’s nothing they could have done to change that.
Let the child know that you’re there for them, and remind them that there are others who can help, such as teachers, counselors, and outside support groups for families and friends of those suffering from substance use disorders. Allowing and encouraging the child to talk about their experiences can be a huge step in helping them rebuild confidence and form healthy connections with people.
Find Characters Children Can Identify With
It’s a great thing to have someone to talk to, but a child can also benefit from seeing someone in their same position. Try looking into media that can provide an illustration or character they can identify with. When a child learns that another character has the same problems as them, it can help them feel less alone and more understood. Be there with them in case they have further questions.
For example, younger children might benefit from watching Sesame Street’s handling of parental addiction. Sesame Street has a character named Karli whose mom is in rehab and is placed in temporary foster care. Karli’s friends in the show learn in age-appropriate terms that Karli’s mom is sick, and how to help Karli as friends.
Rehabilitation & Recovery with The River Source
At The River Source places a high importance on healing the mind, body, and spirit, and that extends to our clients’ families and children.
Our individualized treatment plans are tailored to each of our clients’ needs, and are crafted to help them for life. We work to make sure they are fully prepared to meet the challenges of the real world with the support they need. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, give us a call today at 866-370-1922 or click below to learn more.