How to Talk to Your Children about Substance Abuse

Talking to your children about substance abuse, in some cases, can be one of the hardest things you do as a parent. Sometimes it is under the circumstance that another parent has to go away for a while, whether it be because of treatment or legal custody. Perhaps your situation is not as extreme, and you need to have a conversation with your child because of something they witnessed, or you want them to be informed. While the reasoning may differ, the challenges of talking to your children remain the same.

How Do I Approach This Adult Topic With My Children? 

This is a difficult one to give a clear-cut answer. Remember your child's age and what you know they have already been exposed to. As the parent, you must use your discretion on what is and is not appropriate. Treat this conversation as a step forward in your child's emotional growth. When treating this as a mature talk, your child will try their best to be as mature as possible. If they handle this more mature conversation well, you may be able to push the territory of what you would cover in a normal conversation.

When Do I Talk to My Children About This? 

When talking to children about substance use disorder, the best plan is to talk sooner rather than later. Sometimes if you wait too long, the meaning of the conversation might not be as impactful on your child.

The other reason it is important to talk sooner rather than later is to prevent the situation from worsening. You want to have the conversation so your child will be less affected mentally and emotionally if they know something bad might happen. For example, if the child knows that one of their parents has an illegal substance problem, the child will be less surprised if that parent is arrested because even at a young age, children understand the consequences of actions.

How Should I Talk to My Children? 

Talking to your child will be unique to your relationship. If you normally talk at bedtime or dinner time, you should remain consistent. You want your child to feel comfortable because if they associate this topic with problematic discussions, they may not step forward when there is an issue they need to talk about. Here are some things to remember when having this conversation that will help convey information and make your child feel comfortable:

  • Give Examples: For children, the phrase "substance use disorder" or "addiction" may be hard to conceptualize. Instead, try using relatable examples that your child can understand. This will make it easier for your child to understand the nature of the disorder in terms that relate to them.
  • Be Gentle: Explain that this has nothing to do with them. Children are very egocentric, so they tend to see the world as revolving around them. They may interpret the substance abuse to be because of something they did. 
  • Praise Observations: Children are more observant than you think. It is important to remember that much of their behavior comes from observations. It should be clarified that this does not mean rewarding your child when they notice something about the disorder. Make your child confident in identifying signs and patterns of substance abuse disorder. 
  • Explain the Behavior: If your child can identify the signs, you must clarify that this is not good. Explain to your child that this behavior has very bad consequences. Also, clarify that addiction is a disorder. Studies also suggest that you mention that this can be a genetic disease and that your child should avoid substances.

What Should I Avoid Saying?

Depending on your child's age, you can spare the more gruesome details as long as it is without belittling them. As mentioned earlier, children are more observant than you may give them credit. If they witnessed a detail, do not leave it unacknowledged, or you may disrupt the trust you have with your child. You should try and praise your child for being able to handle this mature topic, regardless of how much information you omitted.

What Other Resources Are Available?

If you are having trouble connecting with your child, nothing you do seems to get through to them. You may want to consider programs like Al-Anon. It is a group for family members of someone who has a substance use disorder. They even have a group specifically for teens.

What Is the Benefit of This Conversation? 

All in all, this conversation is to build the relationship between you and your child. To make them feel comfortable talking about substance abuse disorder. It builds a level of trust in your relationship. You can know that if your child has questions about substances, they can come to you, and you can be someone to offer guidance.

Talking to your children about substance use disorder can be difficult, and in the same breath, it can be very rewarding. When it comes to building or rebuilding a relationship, this is essential. Knowing the challenges that are ahead of you makes it easier. The goal is to have a solid family relationship so you can experience great things in life together. This can be easier said than done, and sometimes you need help. NorthStar Transitions located in Boulder, CO. can be the place to find that help. Our experienced staff offers the necessary resources for you and the ones you care about navigate treatment and recovery. Our group therapy sessions help families communicate their needs and learn how to work together to manage addiction. To find out more about our programs, reach out to us today by calling (303) 558-6400.

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