Planning on Discussing Your Addiction With Your Child? Here are 5 Important Things to Consider

by | Dec 4, 2021 | Addiction

Addiction affects all members of the family, even kids. Some parents think that because the child is young, they don’t understand what’s going on or the complexities of addiction. Parents may assume that “adult” problems don’t affect their children or are not understood. This is often inaccurate as children can sense changes, but their understanding and ideas about these changes will be different than an adult’s.

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.

This is Not An Easy Conversation

For most people, it isn’t easy to talk to anyone about serious issues you’re struggling with. Talking to your children about serious and vulnerable topics can leave a parent feeling extremely uneasy. It’s hard to even know where to start or how to bring up the topic, but talking to your children about serious issues that are affecting your family is important and necessary. 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 about their parent’s addiction, or you think you are hiding it well, kids still know it exists. A lot of the time we think we are protecting our children from the pain that the addiction causes by just not talking about it. Your child is being impacted. 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. 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 and where there is no risk of being overheard. 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.

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.

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 something isn’t right. They feel the heaviness from one or both parents and can see and hear the chaos that comes with addiction. 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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