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How to Talk to Your Kids about Addiction of a Close Family Member

There are problems in every family and sometimes the biggest difficulty parents must face is telling their children that something is wrong. The manner in which these issues are approached in the presence of your children can determine how they will react, how it will affect them and whether it will have some long-term consequences on them. This is especially difficult when one of the parents or another member of the family is struggling with addiction. In such cases, as a parent, it’s your obligation to talk to your children and find the way to explain the situation to them. In case you don’t know how to go about this complex topic with your little ones, here are some general guidelines to help you through it.

Consider your children’s age

All parents love their children, no matter how old they are, and addiction is hard to discuss for both those who are addicted and the children who see that something is going on, but can’t really cope with it. However, there is a huge difference between talking to a six-year-old child and talking to a fifteen-year-old one and this is something you have to take into account before you tackle the topic.
If your child is 10 years old or younger, you might try to explain things in terms they will understand. For instance, you can refer them to a situation when they wanted something so badly, and even if you told them that it’s bad for them and that they can’t have it, they still wanted it and tried to get it. Tell them it’s the same for their addicted family member and alcohol or drugs. Tell them that adults sometimes can’t control themselves when they want something, just like children. Tell them that the person who’s addicted simply makes the wrong choices when it comes to what they’re addicted to, even if they’re aware that it will hurt them and make them ill.
If you’re a parent of a tween, you can give them as many details as they are interested in. The goal is to be as honest as possible, but without going too deep into the matter and not to give them a generic lecture about how addiction is wrong and they shouldn’t do it. Instead, try to stick to the fact relevant to your specific situation and be transparent by telling them that the person in question is ill due to being addicted to one substance or another.
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When it comes to talking to your teen about addiction of a family member, it’s essential to be as open and as honest as you can. Sugar-coating the situation won’t work with them and they will see right through it unless you give them the facts openly. And if they notice that you’re lying or avoiding some important aspects of the situation, they won’t listen to you. Perhaps you can start the conversation with reminding them of certain events and the way they experienced those events, and then explain what lead to them. Don’t forget that older children have probably had some sort of lecture about these things at school and that they’re already familiar with problems such as heroin addiction and what they can do to families, but always bear in mind that this previous knowledge doesn’t make it easier on them to deal with the addiction of their own family members. Your teen may seem mature at moments, but you should always have their feelings on your mind and be careful not to hurt them.

What message are you trying to convey?

Regardless of your child’s age, the message behind your conversation will pretty much be the same. What you need to tell them is the addicted person isn’t bad for it, but in fact they’re sick, and the mean and odd things they do while under the influence of a substance aren’t something they’d normally do. Furthermore, it’s essential to explain to them that none of the situation is their fault, and make sure they believe you before you end the conversation. You don’t want your child to blame themselves for something they have no influence on whatsoever, since that may leave permanent consequences on their self-esteem and mental health in general. Tell them that they aren’t alone in this, that they have you to lean on, but that there are also other children their age and probably in their immediate surroundings who are going through the exactly same thing with their loved ones. Encourage them to talk, whether to you, or to somebody else they trust, such as a school counselor, a psychologist or their friends who might understand the situation. They should under no circumstances feel embarrassed of their family member’s addiction, lie about it or keep it a secret. And most importantly, they have to know that the fact they have a family member who’s addicted doesn’t mean that they’ll make the same mistakes and have the same problems themselves one day.
These pieces of advice can be a starting point for leading a meaningful and informative conversation with your children, but if you’re worried about their mental state and their wellbeing, seeking help from a child psychiatrist, psychologist or a therapist might be the best move you can make.

Tracey Clayton's picture
Parent, Writer, Blogger

Tracey Clayton is a full time mom of three girls. She loves cooking, baking, sewing, spending quality time with her daughters and she’s passionate for writing. She is contributor on High Style Life and her motto is: “Live the life you love, love the life you live.”