Talking to children about addiction is a complicated and fragile topic. While individuals may have graduated from a treatment program and are successfully maintaining their sobriety outside the recovery sphere, talking to their children about their experiences can still be incredibly difficult. The transformations an individual makes throughout the recovery process are profound, and children can be acutely aware of their changing mentality as they adopt new practices and coping strategies.
However, diverting attention or conversations away in an effort to avoid the subject can lead to confusion. While difficult, it is necessary to prepare for a conversation about one’s experiences with addiction and speak with one’s children about the complicated world of addiction and recovery.
The Importance of Talking to Children
One’s developmental years are fruitful, with children absorbing as much information as possible about social norms, cultures, language, and their own feelings and emotional responses. However, they also learn from others’ behaviors, and one’s transformation throughout recovery can present a conflicting image in a child’s mind. Without exploring addiction and its effects on an individual, this sudden change in behaviors can be incredibly confusing.
Likewise, children may be acutely aware that something is different about their situation if a parent or guardian is suffering from addiction. However, there may not be the education or words to support this thought, leaving a child both confused about their situation and without a way to communicate their complex thoughts.
While unfortunate, addiction can also carry a genetic component, causing one’s children to be at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves. Addiction can begin at any age. Not only is talking about addiction and sobriety essential to provide a child with needed context about their situation, but it is also paramount in helping one’s children retain their sobriety and avoid developing an addiction themselves.
Prepare for the Conversation
While talking to children about addiction is necessary for recovering as a family, it is still a complex topic to approach. Jumping into these conversations without first knowing what an individual wants their message to be from the conversation or emotionally steeling themselves to ensure they won’t shy away from more sensitive or difficult topics can muddy the conversation. Rehearsing or writing down what one wants to say can help each person edit and feel more comfortable in the discussion ahead.
Approaching One’s Children
When these conversations take place, they should be conducted in a healthy way. Having the conversation take place in a neutral space such as a shared living room, or even the child’s bedroom, can aid in comforting the child during the conversation. It is also important to schedule this conversation so that children have time to prepare themselves and their own questions if needed.
Creating a Dialogue
Talking with one’s child should still be approached with respect. While children may not have the words to express how they feel, their feelings and experiences throughout a parent or guardian’s addiction are very real. It is essential to approach these conversations with the appropriate respect and as a fluid dialogue rather than a lecture.
There will be tough questions explaining the disease of addiction and how it affects an individual, and those in one’s life can bring up difficult memories or feelings of shame or guilt. This dialogue may delve into the traumas one’s child may have experienced. Listening and being ready to apologize and rectify this trust is essential, and must be done on equal ground, allowing children to speak, question, and let loose their own experiences.
Using Real Experience
Addiction and recovery are personal journeys. Even if one is successfully maintaining their sobriety, using one’s personal experiences to scaffold the conversation can make discussing the topic more intimate. Approaching a conversation by reading out of a textbook can be ineffective.
Instead, it may be more powerful to approach the topic with pertinent memories or stories of one’s experiences in order to better guide the conversation and how it applies to the child specifically. Not only can this support healing on a personal level, but it can also help those in recovery guide the conversation towards the intended goal of the conversation. By doing this, one can keep one’s core message in mind while allowing oneself to prepare for these recollections and how they may have impacted one’s child.
These conversations will be difficult, and admitting vulnerability and rebuilding trust with one’s child and the rest of one’s family can take time. However, it is a necessary part of the process, and while planning out these conversations ahead of time is helpful, it is also possible that family therapy sessions may be paramount to approach the conversation in a safe and secure atmosphere to ensure that each voice is heard and understood in a family’s continued journey to healing.
Talking to your children about your past use or addiction can be an incredibly intimidating topic, and fears of children changing their perception of you can cause an individual to put off the conversation. However, the conversation is necessary to have. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we understand the unique struggles of talking to children about the complex intricacies of addiction and are prepared to help you continue exploring your own sobriety while preparing for these difficult conversations. We understand the need to heal as a family and are here to support you on your journey. We offer family therapy programs and parenting support to help you continue to explore your role as a parent and role model of your children while balancing your own sobriety. For more information on how we can help you, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your unique situation, call us today at (866) 338-6925.