Struggling with addiction is never easy and can feel amplified when you have children in your care. The love you have for your children can be painful when you’re struggling with substance abuse and are making decisions that can affect them. You may try to hide the addiction in an effort to protect your family. For older children, there will likely come a time when it’s important to talk about a parent’s addiction. They may already see the signs, or you may be seeking professional help and have to leave the home to obtain professional help. There are a few ways to talk to a child about the problem at hand and help them cope with parental addiction.
Choose the Right Time and Place to Talk
The time of day that you choose to talk to your child about addiction can determine how easy it is for them to process and understand the information. Find a place that is comfortable where they feel at ease. Avoid discussing the situation when it’s too close to their nap or bedtime, which is when they’re prone to feeling tired. Remain flexible and wait until they’re relaxed and feel at ease. Choose to talk in a location where there aren’t a lot of distractions. There shouldn’t be a television or music on in the background. You can choose to meet in their bedroom or at a park, but it should be in a familiar setting where they feel safe.
Encourage Your Child to Ask Questions
Ask your child if they have any questions after you discuss the addiction to ensure they know they have the freedom to gain a better understanding of the situation. They may need a few minutes to process everything before they know what to ask. You can also tell them that they have the freedom to ask you questions at any time. Communication will reduce the risk of your child feeling shame or embarrassed by their parent’s state.
Becoming educated about addiction and the disease can allow you to become more prepared to answer questions. You can also find an additional person for your child to talk to when they need to process everything. They can talk to a godparent, teacher, or counselor they trust to ensure they have a safe place to discuss their feelings. This can allow them to open up more and find the support they need outside of their family.
Avoid Placing Blame
One of the most common feelings children experience when they have a parent that is struggling with addiction is assuming they’re responsible for the problem. They may assume that the parent made poor decisions because of the child’s disobedience at home or poor grades in school. Make it clear that the child is not responsible for the parent’s actions and had no influence on the addiction. Explain that they didn’t cause the parent to use drugs or alcohol, and they also can’t stop the addiction.
Avoid Including Too Many Details
One of the best ways to have a healthy conversation with your child is to keep it age-appropriate. Although it’s important, to tell the truth, there are certain details that shouldn’t be included due to the pain and confusion it can cause. Simplify complex details to make them easy to understand, and keep the conversation to the point. Never lie to ease the pain or discomfort, which will be easy for your child to detect. Once you begin lying about some of the information, it can cause you to lose trust and will cause your child to put up walls.
Validate the Child’s Feelings
Validating your child’s feelings as you discuss addiction is crucial to helping them feel supported. The child can quickly start to feel alone and isolated if they don’t feel understood. Explain that you share the same pain and communicate that it’s normal to feel mad or upset. Understanding the child’s perspective will allow them to see you as a reliable person they can talk to both now and in the future. It will also help them to avoid reacting poorly or making bad choices as they cope with the pain. They should have the space they need to process the situation and should never feel judged for having a change in feelings at different times.
If you want to learn more about how to talk to a child about a parent’s addiction, you can reach out to us today. Call our counselors at 302-842-2390.