Whether you need to discuss things that occurred in the past, talk about legal issues, or address other problems related to drugs or alcohol, many parents feel uncertain about sharing their truths with their children.
These concerns are valid, as you probably don’t want to scare your kids or embarrass yourself in front of them. Furthermore, you also don’t want them to have more information than they truly need.
That said, you can play a profound role in modeling excellent behavior for your children. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Remember the Four Facts
According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), children must understand these four facts:
- Addiction is a disease that a child cannot cure.
- Children cannot control their parents’ substance use.
- Children are not alone.
- Children can (and should) talk about the problem.
Aim to use these four facts as pillars when navigating tough conversations with your kids. Remember that they may not automatically understand them, particularly when they are young. It’s your job to reinforce them lovingly and frequently.
Always Validate Their Feelings & Reassure Them Often
If they are angry, upset, or worried about you, accept their reality. Addiction and recovery can be complex topics, and your children will likely have fluctuating reactions to them.
Let them know that their feelings are safe and supported. If they blame themselves (or something else), redirect the conversation. Remind them continuously that your behaviors were not their fault, and they cannot control your outcomes.
With that said, it’s also important to drive home the points that:
- You didn’t struggle with addiction because you didn’t love them.
- They can’t “control” whether you relapse or not.
- They didn’t do anything wrong.
While you don’t have to dive into the graphic details of your addiction, it’s crucial to avoid sugarcoating your situation with your children. Lies can easily catch up to you, and such deceit can erode their trust. That said, it’s important to be mindful of using age-appropriate language.
For example, most young kids understand the concept of getting sick and taking medicine. Therefore, if you attend a treatment program, it can be beneficial to phrase it as, I am going to the doctor to get better. You can be more direct as kids get older. For example, I don’t drink anymore because I drink too much, and it makes me sick.
By the time they are teenagers, you can generally speak to your children as you would to an adult. I am in recovery from an alcohol use disorder. It’s very important that I don’t drink to keep myself healthy and be a good parent for you.
Family therapy can help your children process difficult emotions and understand healthy coping skills for managing distress. Moreover, a therapist can support you in addressing difficult topics with your kids.
Find a therapist with experience in treating addiction. In some cases, if you are already receiving individual therapy, your therapist may want to bring your children into a session. In other cases, you might benefit from separating the therapies altogether.
Have Preventative Conversations Early
According to SAMHSA, children as young as nine can start perceiving alcohol in a positive light, and over 3,000 kids as young as 12 try marijuana each day.
Unfortunately, your children may be more susceptible to developing their own addiction problems- especially if they were exposed to your use. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have routine, open conversations about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. Researchers suggest that you can start these discussions as early as elementary school.
Don’t be vague or haphazard when discussing the dangers. Let them know the consequences (both in the real world and the ones you will reinforce at home).