Talking to Your Kids About Addiction
Addiction can rip apart even the strongest of families. An older brother or sister that younger siblings look up to can quickly become someone they no longer recognize. The addict may become untrustworthy, leaving the younger children confused and disappointed. The addict's behavior may cause turmoil in the family, and like every situation you encounter as a parent, you try to work through it the best way possible. But you will do it imperfectly, and the entire family may struggle.
Talking to your kids about addiction of a family member can be an uneasy discussion. Parents may be confused about how to start the conversation or what to say. Children will know something is wrong, they can probably sense the tension in the family and changes in the home. They will be confused as they try to understand and cope with the changes they witness.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Addiction
Addiction is not a disease that one person faces alone, but a disease the family encounters together. By showing your children you are willing to be open and honest with them, and not brush the issue under the rug, you are really empowering them and giving them the tools they will need to discuss their own feelings and questions, and to find solutions to what the family is facing.
Find a Safe Place to Talk
Pick an easy and natural place to talk, such as a picnic at the park, on a morning walk, or over breakfast. Find a place that is natural and comfortable, one that is conducive to conversation. I find that talking to my kids in the car is easiest. They are more inclined to open up to me when I am not staring at them waiting for responses. We also love to talk before bedtime, when everyone is calm and relaxed, and then we can end the conversation on a positive note talking about what we are grateful for before they fall off to sleep.
Allow Them to Participate in the Conversation
Ask your children questions about what they have noticed with their sibling or family member, and if they are confused or scared about anything they have seen. Make sure they know you are asking to alleviate their questions, not for them to be tattling, or getting anyone into trouble. Ask if there is anything they are upset or confused about, and help address their concerns. Everyone needs to help in a loving and supportive way, and by letting the children participate in the conversation they will feel more involved with understanding the problem, and finding solutions.
Have Separate Conversations with Younger Ages
You wouldn’t discuss addiction with a four-year-old the same way you would with a twelve-year-old. If your children are in very different developmental stages, consider separating them so your conversation can be age appropriate. When they are younger you may describe that the family member is sick and mom and dad are doing everything they can to help. With older children you can explain that addiction is a disease, and the steps they can take to help their family member as they go their experiences, and hopefully, their recovery.
Don’t Sugarcoat What Addiction Is
Use words that are age and developmentally appropriate, but be honest. Teach them about what addiction, recovery, and relapse are.
Reassure Your Child
Your child did not cause their family member's addiction, they cannot control it, and they cannot cure it. Their family member made bad choices about drugs and alcohol, and there is nothing they can do to change it. But with assistance from an addiction professional and support from everyone in the family, an addict can step into recovery. They road may be long, and it will not be easy, but a family working together can make the journey successfully.
What are you doing to keep the lines of communication open about addiction?
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