How to Talk to Children About Addiction

How to Talk to Children about Addiction

When a child is exposed to addiction from a young age, having a conversation about it becomes delicate but crucial. Determining if and when to discuss addiction and substances with your child is a decision best made by a guardian or a trusted therapist. In this blog, we will offer some tips on how to approach this sensitive topic and help your child cope with their reality.

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Understanding the Importance of the Conversation

Addiction affects countless families all across the world. When a family suffers from addiction a child may be confused, scared, sad, or even feel responsible. By discussing these feelings with them and explaining addiction at an age-appropriate level, you can help navigate them through this difficult time, reduce stigma, and support them.

Tailor the Conversation to Their Age

Young Children (Ages 4-7) 

It’s important at this age to keep it very simple and brief: 

  1. Explain that addiction is an illness that makes people act strange.
  2. Reassure them that it’s not their fault.
  3. Make sure they understand that adults are working together to try and make the person with an addiction better. 
  4. Use stories and books on breaking bad habits to explain how addiction might happen. 

Older Children (Ages 8-12) 

Older children can grasp ideas that are a little bit more complex:

  1. Explain that addiction affects behavior and the brain to make people act differently. 
  2. Talk about how important it is to ask for help if you have an addiction. 
  3. Ask them about their feelings and help the child navigate through them. 
  4. Explain why addiction is a disease and how adults are trying to support the person with an addiction and that the child doesn’t have to. 

Teenagers (Ages 13 and Up) 

Teenagers have a much better grasp on what substances are and how addiction can affect people’s lives:

  1. Be open and honest about the addiction and what consequences it is having on those around the person with an addiction. 
  2. Explain how addiction impacts everyone around that person.
  3. Ask them how they are feeling and help the teen navigate through their feelings. 
  4. Provide pamphlets, books, and media to help the teen understand. 

Key Points to Cover

There are certain things at any age that should be explained in order for the child to understand what addiction is. 

  1. What Addiction Is
  2. Why It Happens 
  3. The Effects of Addiction 
  4. How It’s Not Their Fault 
  5. The Importance of Treatment and Support

Strategies for the Conversation

When and where to have the conversation are also key things to think about, as it can change the experience exponentially.

  1. Create a Safe Space. When you have this conversation, choose a quiet and safe place for the child. Make sure there is nothing distracting, like music or shows. 
  2. Listen and Validate Their Feelings. Allow the child to say everything they are thinking. Pause after each explanation to give them space to talk. Ask how they are feeling each step of the way and if they still feel safe having the conversation. 
  3. Be Honest and Open. Be honest about as much as possible without being harsh. Don’t tell the child that the person with an addiction will be fine if you’re unsure this is the case. Don’t give a timeline on when they will be better, etc. 
  4. Use Resources. Sometimes a conversation is too much for your child. Instead, you could try introducing them to books, videos, and other media that are made to help children navigate conflict and unrest in their lives. Remember to let your child know you are there to talk about it afterward if they have any questions.
  5. Offer Reassurance. Let your child know they are loved and cared about every step of the way. Let them know a stable adult will always be there for them.

Talking to Your Child About Addiction Isn’t Easy

It’s not easy to have these kinds of conversations, but sometimes, they’re necessary. By being honest, open, and caring, you can create a safe space for children to better understand what’s happening around them. Ongoing support like therapy and stable adults in the child’s life is imperative during this time. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, let Myrtle Beach Recovery help you with our 12-step immersion program. Our experienced staff will help you work through the steps to help you regain control of your life. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you on your journey to sobriety.