How to Talk to Your Children About Addiction

A child that has grown up in a home where addiction is present will inevitably have questions, concerns, or preconceptions of what has happened. Addiction can be a terrifying subject for a child, leaving them feeling confused, angry, or even guilty because they believe they caused it. When you return home after treatment and are working to maintain a sober lifestyle, it is a good idea to talk to your children about addiction in an effective and age-appropriate manner. 

However, it is understandable that discussing such a complex subject with children can be stressful or even overwhelming. When it matters most, it is vital to have these discussions. Consider these tips to help you navigate this crucial conversation.

Choose the Right Time

Having significant conversations such as explaining a parent’s addiction to a child will require no distractions and a time when things are calm in the child’s life. It is best to approach the subject when you feel confident enough to talk about it, as your child will pick up on any hesitation or insecurity. Sit with your child in a quiet place void of distractions so their full attention will be on what you are saying. Choosing the right time will ensure a productive and effective conversation as you begin discussing your addiction and recovery.

Be Honest

Children are aware of much more than what you may give them credit for. Therefore, there is no sense in lying or trying to hide things from them about your addiction. Remember that specific details can be omitted based on the child’s age and understanding, but overall you should keep the conversation open and honest. Being honest will allow your child to receive the full truth, which is step one towards healing and understanding.

Keep the Topic Age-Appropriate

Addiction has dark parts that don’t always need to be explained, especially to a younger child. However, it is also important to use terminology that your child will understand as you explain this subject to them. Breaking the topic down into smaller, more understandable parts will allow your child to grasp the concept better. For this reason, you should keep the conversation simple without using any words or concepts that your child won’t understand. You also want to protect them from the potentially harmful or traumatizing parts of your story, so it is better to stick to the less damaging topics when explaining what you have gone through.

Share the Seven C’s

The National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA) has outlined “the Seven C’s” to help children feel safe, hopeful and avoid feelings of guilt due to a parent’s addiction. The Seven C’s are an excellent resource for helping children understand that they did not cause their parent’s addiction and that they can heal from this. When discussing the topic with your child, throwing in the Seven C’s is an excellent idea to help the conversation along.

The Seven C’s are as follows:

  1. I didn’t cause it.
  2. I can’t control it.
  3. I can’t cure it.
  4. But I can help take care of myself
  5. By communicating my feelings
  6. Making healthy choices,
  7. And celebrating me.

Be Open to Questions

Addiction is a complex issue that can be confusing for children to understand, so you must leave yourself open for questions after the end of your explanation. Keeping yourself open will give your child a chance to ask you direct questions, whether they be about addiction in general or your personal experience. It will also help rebuild the bond as you give honest answers that they will understand because it shows them that you are done hiding your actions. No matter the questions asked, be open to what they have to say and do your best to answer honestly.

Give It Time

Because of the nature of the conversation, it could take some time for the information to sink in. Your child may not initially understand or still have reservations about the subject, so you shouldn’t feel lost or confused if they don’t take to the idea right away. Do your best to be as direct and straightforward as possible, and keep the dialogue open even after that specific conversation ends so your child knows they can come to you at any time with questions. Keeping the dialogue open will help your relationship heal and give your child time to process the information

If your child has a negative reaction to the conversation, you should also give this time to settle. This way, you can provide them with the space they need for healing while also maintaining that openness when they are ready to come back.

Talking to your child about addiction can be an extremely difficult conversation to have. However, it is necessary for them to understand so they don’t draw their own conclusions, which can have potentially negative consequences down the road. Navigating this important conversation will give you both time to grow accustomed to the new normal you are living in. You have the ability to mend the relationship by having difficult conversations like this. If you need guidance on how to approach this subject with your child, NorthStar Transitions can help. Numerous clients of ours have had to have this conversation with their children, and it is no secret that it is a difficult one. For this reason, we provide educational workshops, counseling, and more to help you during this process. We also have various programs if you need further treatment, such as sober living, day treatment, and outpatient treatment. Call us today at (303) 558-6400 to learn more.

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