If you are a parent managing recovery for a substance use disorder (SUD), your children might find life unpredictable, complicated, and confusing at times. Sometimes children even believe that your substance use disorder is their fault. Dealing with this can leave children feeling insecure and uncertain. For you managing recovery, the challenges of addressing your substance use with your children can make you feel just as insecure and unsure.
Additionally, trying to figure out how and when to approach the subject can be intimidating, and this stress could perpetuate triggers. Understand that to move forward and rebuild the relationship with yourself and your family, educating a child about substance use is necessary. Ignoring the issue or pretending that it does not exist is never a good idea and only leaves children wondering if this is how everyone’s life is? Let’s take a look at how you can approach talking with your child and help them understand substance use and its complexities.
The Power of Talking with Children About Addiction
Whether you are the parent with a substance use disorder, the spouse, relative, or teacher, understand that it is never easy to have a conversation about substance use with children. However, covering up or pretending the SUD does not exist or that it’s not a big deal does not protect children from the pain that the SUD causes them. Alternatively, talking about a SUD openly and honestly helps children find healthier ways to cope with the trauma they might be experiencing.
You’re also able to share the truth and dispel some of the lies they might believe surrounding SUD. Such lies might suggest that a person is faulty for using substances or that the child is to blame and therefore responsible for helping their parent get well. These beliefs can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms in children, such as codependency.
Is There a More Appropriate Age?
Once you have decided that a conversation needs to happen, it is important to share accurate information about a SUD, but you want to make sure that the child can understand what you’re saying. For example, children younger than ten remember that they still view the world from a “me” centered perspective. Since they have this perspective, they might want to blame themselves, so it is essential to reassure them they did not cause the SUD. Further, let them know that it is a disorder that requires management and that you are getting help from a doctor to manage it can be reassuring for a young child.
For tweens and teens, at these ages, it might be tempting for them to piece together the information you are giving them and therefore come up with their explanations. Try to keep this from happening. Answer all questions as honestly as possible. It is also reassuring to let them know that they can come to you to talk any time they are feeling confused. You might also experience resentment from older teens, so it is also essential to be sensitive to how your SUD has impacted them. Encourage them to take up hobbies that build their self-esteem. It is also crucial to explain the genetic components of SUD and how it will benefit them to refrain from using alcohol and other substances.
When Is the Best Time to Have the Conversation?
Picking a good time and place to have a conversation is an essential factor in having a meaningful conversation with your child. Select a time when you and your child are relaxed. Trying to have a conversation when they or you are upset, frustrated, or tired will keep you from having the impact you were hoping to make. Instead, choose a comfortable space where there is no risk of being overheard.
Remain sensitive to the fact that kids often assume that no one knows what happens in their home. Always exercise empathy and patience. It is also good to ask questions to understand their perspective, whether they blame themselves, and reassure them it is not their fault. Your SUD or your loved one’s SUD is not the child’s responsibility.
What Children Need to Hear
Living with a parent managing a SUD can make a child’s life feel chaotic, lonely, and even scary, especially if the SUD has contributed to the separation of families. Further, living with a parent who once used and is not managing sobriety could cause the child to become withdrawn and shy, while others can become explosive and aggressive. Likewise, children could develop issues with self-esteem, attachment, autonomy, and trust. Therefore they need to understand that your substance use is a disorder and that you are not a “bad” person. Instead, it is the disorder that causes you to make bad decisions. It is also important to stress:
- It is not their fault
- They are not alone
- It is okay to talk
Environments where children know what is going on and why not only help them understand SUD, but it keeps them from developing feelings of shame and guilt. If you or a loved one is managing recovery or in need of help, creating an atmosphere where children feel scared, lonely, or isolated, then it is time to seek help today. At Choice House, we provide a space for men to find the proper treatment and therapy to help them discuss their SUD and rebuild trust in familial relationships. Not only is it essential for your children, but understanding your SUD is essential for you, too. Understand, you never have to face your addiction alone, and there is help for you. Choice House provides both conventional and alternative care to help meet your individual needs. We also offer 24/7 admissions, so there is never an excuse to reach out when you need help. Find out more by calling us at (720) 577-4422.