TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT A PARENT’S SUBSTANCE ABUSE
If you or your partner are raising children and have a substance abuse problem, you might be tempted to try to hide it from the kids. Unfortunately, kids notice a lot more than people think, and odds are that they’ve at least figured out that something is amiss. Tempting as it might be to pretend that nothing is wrong and try to shelter your children from reality, there’s going to come a time when you have to talk to them. Whether it’s because of a separation or divorce, one parent going to rehab, or if the children are removed from the home, they’re going to feel the effects of the substance abuse. Instead of hiding from the issue, understand that there are some things that they need to hear.
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics recommends that children are taught the seven Cs of dealing with a family member with addiction: I didn’t CAUSE it. I can’t CURE it. I can’t CONTROL it. I can help take CARE of myself by COMMUNICATING my feelings, making healthy CHOICES, and CELEBRATING me.
The first half of the Cs are all about making sure kids understand that they aren’t responsible for their parent’s substance abuse. Many kids somehow convince themselves that problems with their parents’ relationship are their fault. They might think “If I had acted better,” “If I did better in school,” or “If I didn’t cost them so much money,” maybe this wouldn’t be happening. Obviously, depending on the age and maturity of the child, you won’t want to tell them everything, but a good place to start is by making them understand that addiction is a disease. Maybe a family member or someone in their class at school was sick and had to spend a while in the hospital, and you can use that as a comparison.
Kids might want to retreat into a shell and ignore what’s going on, but it’s important to help them take care of themselves. Staying healthy and keeping to a routine can be good for both physical and mental health. Make sure that they still go outside and play with their friends instead of sitting around and feeling upset.
You might think that children talk about everything that passes through their minds, but they often hide their feelings just like adults do. If they’re blaming themselves or feeling scared or embarrassed, they might not come to you about it. Make sure that they know they can talk to you about anything, but provide other options for communication, whether it’s a teacher, therapist, or pastor. There is also a support group called Alateen that’s specifically for young family members of addicts, and their website has a lot of information for teens.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.