Talking to children about addiction can feel uncomfortable, but it is important that kids and teens are informed about the dangers of addiction.
How to talk to kids about addiction
Children can be very perceptive, and they likely understand more than we sometimes give them credit for. When things are too scary or uncomfortable to talk about, like addiction, it may seem easier to avoid talking about them altogether, but this can play into the idea that certain topics are bad or taboo. While your kids may not need to know the gritty details of addiction, it is critical that they understand how addiction can happen, how it affects people and how to deal with it.
Talking to children about addiction is even more important if addiction has directly affected your family. Rather than ignoring the elephant in the room, let your kids know what the situation was, because they likely noticed that something was off. This will also teach your kids that they can come to you with any questions or concerns without worrying how you will react.
If you’re unsure how to talk to your kids about addiction, try following these tips:
- Start small. If your kids are on the younger side, don’t overwhelm them too quickly with the chemistry behind addiction, photos of individuals who have long struggled with addiction or statistics on drug overdoses. Give them the basics and see if any questions arise from there; with time and age, you can continue to revisit the topic of addiction with your kids.
- Approach the conversation with an open mind. You want your kids to feel like they can come to you with any issues or questions they might have, and they are likely to have questions. If your kids do find themselves struggling with addiction in the future, it’s important they know they can safely go to you for help.
- Refrain from passing judgement. Stay neutral and stick to the facts about addiction. This is particularly important if addiction has directly affected your family, as the way you talk about addiction could potentially color your children’s opinions on the person struggling with addiction.
- Be honest, and communicate yourself. If you have struggled with addiction yourself or you are preparing your kids to learn that someone in your family has, be honest about that. It would be confusing for your kids if you told them about the dangers of addiction but left out how addiction affects your family. This will be an exercise in trust for both you and your kids.
- Schedule regular family meetings if that structure will help your family prepare to communicate about difficult topics. Use this time to teach your kids about other potentially uncomfortable topics to break the stigma associated with things like addiction and promote open dialogue.
- Don’t sugarcoat the conversation or use nicknames for addiction-related topics. Addiction is not a choice and it deserves to be approached with dignity and compassion, but it is also a very real and prevalent issue that can have damaging effects on people and their families. Teach your kids the terms to know about drug and alcohol use and addiction. This will help keep them informed and conscientious in case they are ever concerned that a loved one might be struggling with addiction.
Family counseling can also be helpful in unpacking and understanding addiction, especially if it has impacted your family. For example, a member of your family may be in an intensive outpatient program to treat their substance addiction. If their substance abuse has affected you as a family, you can attend weekly family counseling both as part of your loved one’s overall addiction treatment and for the purposes of educating your children. This is beneficial for individual family members and your family unit as a whole; each of you must understand and heal from distressing events in order to heal and move forward as a family.
The Light Program offers inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment for adults and adolescents struggling with addiction. Get help today for you or your loved one by reaching out at 610-644-6464.