Addiction touches almost everyone somehow, and its effects can be experienced at any age by any person. Growing up in an environment where addiction is present may be confusing for a child that doesn’t fully understand what is happening. Studies estimate that more than 8 million children younger than 18 years old live with at least one adult with a substance use disorder, more than 1 in 10 children.
It is essential to find ways to explain addiction to children to equip them with the education and knowledge to help them process their feelings and emotions. Many parents are unsure how to approach conversations about addiction with their young children, but given how important it is to inform and educate them, here are some things to consider when starting a dialogue.
Why It’s Important to Explain Addiction to A Child
Addiction is considered a family illness because it may cause dysfunction for the entire family unit, not just the person experiencing the disease. Adults tend to keep the discussion about substance use disorders from children, neglecting to explain to them what is happening. This may leave the child feeling guilty or to blame for the tension in the home, even though the conflicts there are entirely out of their control.
Explaining addiction to your child in an age-appropriate way that they can understand and relate to is a vital process that takes time. It is also important to help children understand that they are not to blame for the addiction. Educating children about addiction and how it impacts the family can help to prevent the child from developing a substance use disorder in young adulthood.
Starting Conversations Early
Conversations around drugs and alcohol must begin early before the child is exposed to misinformation from their peers or the media. Regardless of when you begin, introducing age-appropriate resources will help you relay accurate messages about addiction. This allows the child to develop questions over time and makes them feel more comfortable asking questions they might have. By fostering discussion, your child will know that you are, and always will be, a resource to go to when concerns arise. If your child asks you a question that you don’t have an answer to, assure them that you will find the answer together. Making sure that your child feels heard during the process will keep the lines of communication open.
How Early is Too Early?
You are your child’s best advocate, meaning you should trust your instincts when they are mature enough to grasp the root of the conversation. The discussion you have with a teenager would not be the same as the one you would have with a ten-year-old. However, the child’s cognitive ability to understand and process the information you relay to them is more critical than simply their age. Adjust the conversation to fit the child’s needs you are talking to, and continue to develop the discussion as they age.
Try to make connections with references that they may be able to understand at their specific age. A good example is using candy as a reference, as the temptation to eat too much candy or overindulge is another way a child might comprehend addiction in their own way. Using references that they can understand and follow helps them better understand the characteristics and dangers of addiction.
Promote Honesty and Utilize Other Resources
Although conversations may be difficult or uncomfortable at times, you are doing your child a huge favor by starting the conversation about addiction at home. You are giving your child a resource for education and a trusted adult to whom they may ask questions. When your child does ask questions, be sure that you are as honest as possible with them. You know what is best for your child to know, but being an open ear for them is always a great place to start.
There are many resources you can use that will help a child when they are seeking knowledge. If the child is old enough, consider talk therapy for them to sort out their thoughts and feelings with a trained professional instead of a parent or guardian. Help the child identify resources that will promote their well-being and safety and phone numbers of other family members and friends that can be accessed if support is ever needed. Addiction affects all of us one way or another, and it is vital to normalize seeking help for those who experience its effects.
It is essential that we have the resources and know-how to educate young children on addiction. Adults typically neglect to inform their youngsters about the effects of substance use disorders, thinking that they are too young to understand. This may leave the child confused and full of feelings of guilt and shame. At West Coast Recovery, we help you start the conversation about addiction and recovery and ensure that your child has reliable information about addiction. We also provide a space where children can ask questions. You are your child’s best advocate, so trust your instincts when you feel they are ready to have the discussion. We also use case management to inform family members about client progress and needs. Whether you are a parent experiencing addiction or know someone that is, we can connect you with resources and education to explain addiction to your loved ones. Give us a call at (760) 492-6509.