Addiction is never an easy topic to discuss. It’s difficult to talk about it for the addicts and their friends and family, but it can be especially challenging to explain addiction to kids. Siblings, children and grandchildren of addicts need to know what’s going on but, at the same time, it’s essential to take their age into consideration and put proper effort into phrasing and compassion. After all, it’s not uncommon for kids who have an addict in their family to develop certain emotional issues, which is precisely the reason why this topic has to be approached seriously and carefully.
Be mindful of the child’s age
To be completely honest, addiction is sometimes difficult to understand, even for adults. So, imagine just how confusing it can appear to kids. If you have the task to talk about addiction with really young children, it might be best to stick to the simple story of their parent, grandparent or sibling being sick. It’s OK to add details as the kids age. For older kids who may already understand that something’s not right, and especially for kids who are angry or sad about the behaviour of the said family member, it’s important to approach the subject with a calm and compassionate attitude.
In order to help them deal with negativity, you have to forget about the negative nature of addiction as well. It may be hard, but kids need this kind of an approach to accept the reality better. Choose your words, explain that the family member never meant to hurt or leave them, talk about how sick and sad they feel, too. You can even try to make analogies about addiction being hundreds of times worse compared to when the kids crave something sweet., but if you do this also make it a point to mention that the addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol are tricky and extremely bad things that are dangerous and unfair.
Be as honest as possible
Regardless of whether you’re trying to explain addiction to kids as an addict or another family member, keep in mind that honesty is the best policy. Obviously, you shouldn’t share the worst of the addiction, but children need to know that you find them trustworthy enough to share the struggle of it. That said, children have the right to know about what drugs and alcohol caused health-wise as well as the challenging process of recovery. This is especially important if the addict is receiving an opioid treatment or has to go away for a while. It’s easy enough for adults to assume that the best thing they could do for kids is to hide this kind of thing completely. But the truth is quite different, as kids notice the problems well and they can end up finding their own “bad” ways of dealing with it if they don’t get any information on the matter.
Get professional help
Aside from the professional help necessary to recover from addiction, it would be wise to seek professional help when it comes to talking to kids about family addiction as well, such as treatment for barbiturate abuse or withdrawl symptoms of inhalants. What’s more, depending on their situation as a sibling, child or grandchild of an addict, kids will also need a different way of presenting things. Not to mention if they actually witnessed what addiction does to their family member. In that respect, it’s absolutely necessary to get professional guidance, be it from the addiction group counsellor, a child psychiatrist, or other people with the same experience. Even if you don’t know who to turn to immediately, don’t hesitate to do some research online as there are plenty of support groups and forums that can give you proper advice.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for kids to blame themselves for what’s going on with the addict in their family, especially if the person is their parent. Therefore, it’s paramount to do your best to make them realize and accept that they weren’t the cause of addiction, they can’t provide the cure and that they cannot control it. What they could do is take care of themselves and keep communicating their feelings to people around them who love and cherish them the most. By talking about all these things, kids will slowly learn that this wasn’t their fault and that they’re not alone.