How To Talk To Your Kids About A Family Member’s Struggle With Addiction

When a person struggles with addiction, it affects their life and the lives of those around them. This includes close family members, and although most adults understand how difficult it is to live with addiction, it’s harder for children to comprehend what addiction is and how it’s affecting a person they’re close to.

Children can be deeply affected by a family member’s struggle with addiction, whether they live with the family member or not. Addiction can be confusing and unpredictable, leading to a heightened sense of uncertainty and tension in children.

While it may seem difficult to explain the complexities of addiction to a child, having those tough conversations can be crucial to your child’s mental health and their relationship with any family members struggling with addiction.

Educate Yourself First

Before you speak to your child about a family member’s addiction, you must have all of the facts about their situation and addiction in general. This will prevent you from holding any misconceptions surrounding your loved one’s addiction and ensure that their story is represented correctly. You’ll also be better equipped to educate your child on the dangers of addiction, so there is no confusion when it comes time to have a conversation.

Start the Conversation Early

It’s nearly impossible to predict when a family member’s addiction may affect your child, but it’s essential to address the situation as soon as possible to avoid any issues. The earlier you have this conversation, the better, as you’ll prevent your child from having to navigate any mixed feelings on their own. Depending on your child’s age, this conversation could go any number of ways, but the primary thing to focus on is that their family member is sick and in need of support.

Be Honest and Age-Appropriate

Speaking with your child about a family member’s addiction may be uncomfortable, but it’s easiest in this situation to be completely transparent. Spell things out for your child, and let them know exactly what’s going on to what they’ll be able to understand. Let them know what their family member is addicted to, inform them of its dangers, and emphasize that although their family member is doing something they shouldn’t, they are a part of the family.

During this conversation, it’s essential to educate your child on addiction without scaring them or causing any mental or emotional harm. Young children may become frightened if you attempt to discuss the side effects of heroin addiction, for example, so it can be helpful to adjust your language to their age.

Provide Support

It can be profoundly upsetting for a child to learn that their family member struggles with addiction, so it’s essential to support them as they grapple with any emotions they may have. If they’re upset, let them be upset and express those emotions.

If they’re angry or resentful, give them whatever space they need and take the time to explain the sensitivity of the situation. Addiction can be difficult for all parties involved, and giving your child the proper support can help them adapt to this new change.

Emphasize It’s Not Their Fault

When something terrible has happened to a family member, a child may feel some sense of personal responsibility or guilt. When speaking about a family member’s struggle with addiction, let your child know they are not responsible for their family member’s actions whatsoever.

Assert that they did not cause the addiction, that they are not currently motivating the addiction, nor are they responsible for helping the family member overcome their addiction.

Maintain Open Communication

Addiction can evolve over time, so it’s essential to maintain an open line of communication with your child about a family member’s addiction. Assure your child that they can come to you with questions and that they are never alone in their feelings. They are supposed to feel safe within their family, and every conversation you have about a family member’s addiction ensures that it holds true.

Living around addiction as a child isn’t easy, but you can help your child through their confusing emotions and educate them on the dangers of substance abuse with the proper support. Although it may take some work to help your family member struggling with addiction, having these tough conversations can help prevent your child from going down a similar path.

Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer living unapologetically in recovery. She writes for Affinity Health Clinics, methadone clinics in Camden, NJ.

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