It’s not a comfortable subject to broach. When a family friend or loved one has a drug addiction, it affects the people in their lives. It can be hard to explain to your child why their brother or sister, or aunt or uncle isn’t behaving normally. Getting the explanation right is important to frame the situation in a way that is supportive to the person with an addiction, while also providing a teaching moment for your kids to learn a bit more about the dangers of drug addiction.
This post will offer some tips and perspectives on how to talk to your kids about a family member’s drug addiction.
Use the Power of Narrative to Start the Conversation
Select Children’s Literature That Deals With the Topic
Narrative has the power to make complex topics understandable and relatable to children. There are many children’s books out there that can help you teach your child about how drug addiction affects people through the power of stories.
Storybooks help convey complex ideas to children and give parents a framework for discussion after reading. If children can connect to and understand the motivations and struggles of characters in a story, it becomes easier for them to understand why people they know in real life may be acting a certain way because of their drug addiction.
Check out this resource list of children’s books that deal with the topic of addiction and how it affects the family.
Find Children’s Programming That Deals With the Topic:
Children’s TV shows also help break down the topic of drug addiction in an informative, kid-appropriate way. In 2019, Sesame Street broke new ground by introducing the character Karli, whose mother has a drug addiction.
Karli is a relatable character for kids because she struggles with the fact that her mother has a substance abuse issue and seeks the advice of other characters on the show to learn about the nature of addiction and how she fits into the picture—namely by reinforcing the idea that a parent’s drug addiction isn’t the child’s fault.
Follow the Established Practices And Guidelines When Talking To Your Children
Though the topic of addiction seems taboo, especially as far as children are concerned, the reality is that many children grow up having to cope with the effects of a family member’s drug addiction. The less taboo we make it, the more open it becomes as a subject. The more open the topic of substance abuse becomes, the more likely your child will seek out advice and support from trusted, authoritative sources on the matter.
Follow these principles when talking to your child about a family member’s drug addiction:
It is never too early to talk to your kids about drug addiction—especially if they are affected by a family member’s substance abuse disorder. Though you don’t have to go into excruciating detail, the earlier you start to help build context and understanding, the more resilient and adaptable your child will become to changes in their life. Think of it this way: they should get the information from you rather than a peer or untrustworthy source.
Keep It Age-Appropriate
The way you talk to a six-year-old is different from how you talk to a twelve-year-old. That doesn’t mean the content of the conversation has to change, just the delivery and presentation.
You must make the explanation relatable. A young child might not understand that their parent’s neurotransmitters are affected by the chemicals they ingest, but they can relate to the drive to eat candy when they know it’s not good for them, for example.
Lying about a family member’s drug addiction will only cause more harm in the long run. If you ignore or misrepresent a family member’s actions and behavior, then the child will develop a skewed understanding of the world, leading to devastating consequences.
A child can understand that diseases make people act differently. However, if they don’t learn that their family member’s addiction is a disease and that their behavior is a result of this disease, then they might grow up thinking that behavior is expected.
Teach Your Child the 7 Cs
The 7 Cs are a useful mnemonic device from the National Association for Children of Addiction for learning useful coping skills.
Your child is not the cause of their family member’s addiction, nor are they responsible for any problems or consequences of their family member’s addiction.
Addiction is not curable. As a chronic illness, it can’t be cured, but it can successfully be treated and managed. Your child can’t fix their loved one’s addiction.
Your child can’t control the situation or the actions of their loved one who has an addiction. However, they can control their response to uncontrollable circumstances by taking care of themselves.
Children can make sure they practice self-care by employing the remaining 3 Cs.
Your child needs to communicate their feelings in a healthy manner. They need to know that they can go to a trusted adult and express their feelings.
Children can learn early that there are good consequences when they make healthy choices, and when they make unhealthy choices, there are not-so-good consequences.
Your child needs to remember to celebrate themselves by doing the things they love and realizing that there is plenty in the world to be happy and excited about.
Get the Conversation Going
It’s never too early to help your child understand a family member’s drug addiction. There are several age-appropriate resources and ways of breaking down the situation that can help put your young one’s mind at ease. Though it’s never an easy conversation to have, getting the conversation started will help your child build a better understanding of themselves and the larger world around them.
Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, and dog enthusiast living unapologetically in recovery. She writes for Maryville, a medical center for addiction treatment in NJ.