How To Talk To A Child About Your Addiction

by | Jun 13, 2021 | Addiction

Addiction affects all members of the family, even kids, Especially kids.

There is no better time than now to talk to your child about your addiction. Most children ages 5 years and old, oftentimes already know that they are living in an unhealthy home environment. They feel the heaviness from one or both parents and can see and hear the chaos that comes with addiction, mental health conditions and drug abuse.

Some parents think young children may not understand that they are living among addiction but they can sense they are in a stressful situation. They may not understand all the complexities of why and how, but children sense changes and often internalize their family dynamics, and are more likely to become addicts themselves in the future.

toughtful child during conversation

Talk to Children about Addiction

Children living in a home where there is parental substance abuse can find life confusing, uncomfortable, and difficult. Sometimes, children believe that their parent’s excessive drinking or substance abuse is their fault. When kids deal with this type of chaos and unpredictability, they may start to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, low self-esteem, shame, and may even self-harm. The best thing to do is have an honest conversation with your child, at an age-appropriate level.

This is Not An Easy Conversation

Talking about addiction to children is one of the most difficult topics you can broach. Whether the news comes from the addicted family member or a trusted friend, it’s important to make the child feel safe and not at fault. The more we speak about addiction, the more we can reduce the stigma around addiction.

It’s hard to know where to begin and how to explain things at an age-appropriate level but above all, children will always do better with honesty. Even with the most difficult subjects, there are ways to speak to your child in a way that they can understand. Ignoring the issue or pretending that the issue doesn’t exist is never a good idea, and it leaves room for the child to think that this way of life is normal for everyone.

Start the Conversation Early

Even if you’re not talking openly to your children about your addiction, or if you think you are hiding it well, kids still know it exists.

Omitting the elephant in the room can make us think we are protecting our children from the harsh reality and even pain, children notice what goes unsaid and they can be doomed to repeat their parent’s patterns.

Do your best to start talking about the addiction openly and honestly as it can help them find healthier ways to cope with the trauma they are experiencing and direct the age-appropriate resources that can help them cope with living in addicted homes. Addressing concerns and questions early can help to eliminate assumptions or false information that can arise.

The Right Time and Place

Bring it up in a neutral, safe time and place where a family meeting can happen. Choose a time and place where the child feels safe and comfortable. Avoid having the conversation when your child is showing or expressing anger or sadness, or if they are overly exhausted. Lastly, make sure to approach this conversation with empathy and patience.

Messages Kids Need to Hear

Don’t assume anything. Oftentimes when addiction is present in the home, children feel like their life is chaotic, lonely, and scary – especially if the parents decide to separate or divorce due to the addiction. Your kid needs to hear that their parent’s addiction is not their fault and that no matter what they do differently, they can not change or cure their parent’s substance use disorder.

Kids with an addicted parent often develop issues with self-esteem, attachment, and trust– trust is almost always an issue, so the best thing you can do to help your child and your relationship with your child is to tell them the truth in age-appropriate ways.

Living with a parent struggling with substance abuse can be extremely isolating and unstable. Kids are supposed to feel safe and secure at home without worrying if they will be cared for. When a person is struggling with substance abuse in a home, there is very little safety and security, causing a child to feel alone. Reassure the child that you are there for them, and that you are telling them this to support them and validate the feelings they may have.

Show Empathy

The shame and embarrassment that kids can feel because of their parent’s addiction can cause them to feel like no one else understands what they’re going through. For this reason, you need to be sure to emphasize the fact that they are not alone and that you are there for them anytime they need to talk.

Let your child know that it’s okay to talk about what is going on. It’s okay to talk about how addiction makes them feel and how it affects their lives. They do not need to feel scared, ashamed, or embarrassed about how they are feeling or any questions they want to ask. Encourage them to talk to you or to someone they trust such as a teacher, counselor, friend, or another family member.

If your child is still having a hard time understanding their parents’ behavior or changes due to addiction, remind them often of these truths:

  • They are not the cause of the changes.
  • They can’t make things go back to normal or control the situation; leave it up to the adults who will keep them safe.
  • They can tell the adult anything they feel, see, want, or need, and the adults who keep them safe will listen and support them.
  • They should ask questions and continue to make healthy choices.

Professional Therapy

It is important to talk about addiction with your children, but sometimes it may be necessary to involve an objective professional who has training in working in child psychiatry and teaching them to deal with their issues in healthy ways.

This can especially be true if you’re the one addicted, there is already some distance between you and the person you’re trying to help, or the child has suffered some kind of trauma that would benefit from professional intervention.

Every child is unique. Find out which therapies work best for you. Look for locations that offer trauma-informed approaches and a variety of services (e.g. arts and/or music therapy; physical therapy; psychiatry; group therapy; etc.).

Using Books to Explain Addiction

Children’s books about addiction are helpful because they help children understand what they’re experiencing.

Many children who struggle with addictions feel ashamed and Books can help children learn to cope with those feelings of shame or anger.

A good bedtime story can help children understand their feelings better and going through each page or chapter, asking open-ended questions to start a dialogue with your child allows them to try and understand that they are not alone.

Talk to your child early and discuss what is happening to help eliminate negative emotions that your child may carry as well as false information that your child can receive from other people and/or the internet.

Provide a safe space to talk with your child about addiction, where they are assured that their parent’s substance abuse is not their fault. If you or someone in your life is struggling with substance abuse, Sober Life Recovery can help. We can provide a safe and professional space that can not only help the person struggling but the entire family.

Call today at (619) 542-9542

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