If you have addiction in your family, whether it is your own, your spouse or another family member, it is crucial to address it appropriately and matter-of-factly with your children. Of course it’s easier and more comfortable to skirt the issue, but since addiction can be an inherited family trait, it’s important to be honest with your kids.
You want to set your children up for success and help them avoid addiction problems of their own. So how should you go about discussing addiction with children?
Here are a few tips to help you have this important conversation with your children.
- Talk to them when they’re young – in elementary school – and be open about you or your family member’s predisposition. Use age-appropriate language, but be clear in what you’re saying, taking the mystery out of addiction. Often, families with addiction avoid the topic and try to cover it up, but that won’t make it any easier on your children as they grow up. Create an environment of trust and honesty so they know they can come to you with questions or concerns.
- Take the stigma and shame out of the conversation. Explain that you had a health problem and you’ve taken steps to get better once you’re in recovery. Some equate alcoholism to diabetes: alcoholics can’t drink alcoholic just like diabetics must avoid sugar. We know addiction is a brain disease, but popular culture doesn’t always agree, and children learn a lot about the world from peers, TV shows and the internet. Help remove the stigma by being clear about this point.
- Give them the facts in a clear and rational way. Recovery is an emotional process, but sometimes young children won’t really hear or understand what you’re saying if you’re upset. Think ahead about what you want to say and how you want to deliver the information. Stay calm.
Many children never have conversations like this about addiction, which could end up really hurting them in the long run. If someone with an addiction is close to them, you don’t want it to be a confusing, mysterious secret.
Especially once that person has taken steps to recovery, it is much more beneficial for children to know what’s going on. Many recovery programs will help you explain addiction to your children and work with family members to heal. For example, the health care professionals at PSI can give you even more tools to use through our treatment programs. Find out more here.
So take the time to have a conversation about addiction with your children. If they see a family member acting erratically or disappearing for a time or have even lost a family member to addiction, they need to know what’s going on. This way, they’ll have the tools to handle any potential problems with addiction later on in their own lives.