Education: How Do You Talk To Kids About Their Parents’ Addiction?

Addiction is a cruel beast, but it can feel even more cruel when there are children involved. Addiction can grip anyone and that includes parents, having to battle their own problems while managing to raise a family and set their kids’ lives up to be a happy and healthy one. 

However, children living in a household where parents are battling with addiction, whether that be alcohol, drugs, gambling or any other form of addiction can lead to an unpredictable life that can leave them confused. 

The side effects of addiction can lead to mixed messages from parents, large mood swings and often leaving children feeling like it is their fault. Which of course, no parent would want them thinking. It’s a difficult life your child will be leading, no matter how old they are and it can leave them feeling angry, worried, scared, and, perhaps most heartbreakingly, alone.

Of course, the first step is to get help. Checking into an alcohol rehab, for example, for those suffering with alcoholism is the best step to not only getting a parent’s life back on track, but also a child’s. Treatment is key. However, also addressing the situation with children is an absolute must for their own peace of mind and understanding as to what is going on. 

But how do you talk to children about addiction?

Well, firstly, it’s not an easy conversation to have but people in a number of positions may feel the need to discuss it with a child, whether that be a teacher at school, a relative or the non-addicted parent if that’s the case. 

Children pick up on their surroundings, so they are going to think one of two things – something is wrong, or this is the norm. Either way, it needs to be addressed as it is impacting their lives. 

By being open and delicately sharing the problems will allow them to be more understanding of their parent and cope themselves much more effectively. First and foremost that being, it’s not their fault.

Getting the facts

Before speaking to a child about their parent’s addiction, it’s important to get the facts right first. Education is key as children will ask questions. It’s how they learn. Therefore you want your answers to be clear, coherent and, most importantly, accurate. 

Make them age appropriate

Then it’s about packaging those facts up in a way that suits the age of the child. For those under the age of around 10, it should be more about them, how they can be supported and that their parent loves them. 

For those older, it’s more about the facts and being more open about what their parent is going through. Offer them a route to talk about their feelings and allow them to ask any questions they may have. It may also be the opportunity to discuss the fact that addictive tendencies can be genetic and that they shouldn’t follow a similar pathway.

Consider the timing

The conversation should really come as soon as the problem with a parent’s addiction is identified. However, you also need to consider things like the time of day and the child’s mood. The best time to open up to a child about the issue is when they’re more relaxed and in a comfortable environment for them. This will give you the best possible opportunity to have an in-depth conversation, as well as get your message across clearly.

It’s never an easy time, but what’s most important is that it provides clarity for the child, and that’s the most important thing as their parent looks to battle and recover from addiction.