How to Talk to a Child About a Parent's Addiction

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Explaining to a child that his or her parent has an addiction, especially when the child is young, can be very difficult.

However, the topic of addiction should not be kept a secret or tucked away.

Addiction and Children

More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics. Children who grow up with parents as addicts tend to have more emotional, behavioral and academic problems than other kids. Because many of these kids lack consistent discipline, they may develop inadequate self-control and lack personal responsibility. Conversely, a child may also grow up to become overly controlling or hyper-vigilant. Moreover, children of addicts are four times more likely to become addicts themselves.

Talking to a Child About Addiction

These six steps can help a non-addict parent or caretaker to take the right steps in trying to explain addiction and what it means in a child's life:

  1. Get informed and learn as much as you can about addiction. Before you decide to start a dialogue with a child about addiction, learn as much as you can yourself about the disease. This will help you to answer any questions the child may have. If you do not know the answer to a question, work on finding the answer together.
  2. Find time to have the talk. Have this conversation in a quiet place where there are no distractions. Explain the possible changes that the child will face, such as a parent going to rehab or that a parent will move out of the home. Make sure the child feels comfortable having an ongoing dialogue about the situation.
  3. Keep in mind who you are talking to. Tailor the conversation to the child's specific needs. Be ready to break the issues down to their simplest, most direct form. This does not mean that you should lie to a child to soften the blow; be as honest about the problem as you can. Explain that addiction is like any disease and that their parent needs treatment to feel better.
  4. Put things in perspective for the child, and help him or her understand that the situation is not his or her fault. It is important for the child to feel as normal as possible. Help the child understand that they are not alone and that there are many other kids in the same situation. Furthermore, help the child understand that the current situation is in no way his or her fault. Children need help to understand that what an addict says and does under the influence isn't really who they are or how they feel.
  5. Find additional support for you and the child. Let the child know that there are many resources available to help him or her process these emotions. If a child doesn't feel comfortable talking with a parent or relative, recommend he or she reach out to a teacher, counselor, child or family therapist instead.

Source: The Huffington Post

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