When a person struggles with substance abuse, their whole family suffers. However, no one suffers more than children of addicts. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that nearly one-fourth of American children live in a home where substance abuse occurs. This puts kids of all ages at risk for developing psychological and emotional problems, or even to become addicts themselves. While it may seem like there is nothing you can do to help the child with an addicted parent, there is. You don’t need to be a doctor or therapist to make a child feel safe, loved, or seen. Here are some practical steps you can take to support children of addicts.
Children are more perceptive than adults tend to believe. Even when they’re in preschool and may not fully understand what is happening in their lives or why, kids are often aware that something in their home isn’t right. Because of their limited communication skills, however, the fear, frustration, and sadness they experience may often present themselves in other ways, such as behavioral problems. If you suspect that a young child is struggling as a result of their parent’s addiction, try taking these steps to give them the security they crave:
- Help them focus on just being a kid: Take them to play dates, birthday parties, the park, etc. to let them have fun.
- Be patient when they misbehave: Don’t overreact; they’re going through more than they should have to.
- Keep communication open: Listen when they have something to say and help them process their feelings.
- Encourage them: Compliment their gifts and strengths as much as possible.
- Be present: Let them feel seen and appreciated by consistently spending distraction-free time with them.
Middle school is a challenging time for young people in general, but especially for those with parents struggling with addiction. Along with the physical and emotional changes that preteens experience as they move through puberty, kids of addicts have the added burden of trying to make sense of their parents’ poor decisions and unstable households. Oftentimes, middle schoolers are hungry for a stable figure they can depend on and help sort through the adult issues they’ve been exposed to. You can help them by:
- Supporting their hobbies: Find out what interests them, then encourage them to do it (soccer, guitar, painting, etc.).
- Check up on their schoolwork: Chances are their schoolwork is being affected by the home life. Provide a consistent place for them to do their homework, help them study, or hire a tutor to ensure they don’t fall behind.
- Be their safe space: Let them know that you are there to listen, talk, or answer questions whenever they want.
- Consider therapy: Set them up with a therapist or peer group to work through their problems.
The effects of living in a home where addiction is present can vary widely among teenagers. While some work hard to not make the same mistakes, others slip into similar patterns. No matter how broken, stable, or withdrawn a teen may seem, the positive influence of a reliable adult can have a tremendous impact on their overall well-being and happiness. Here are some simple ways to give them the encouragement they need:
- Help them find a healthy outlet: How would they like to spend their free time? Encourage them to get a part-time job, take lessons, or join an organization they’re interested in.
- Bring them to Alateen: Surrounding them with teens with similar experiences benefits them.
- Give them space: Don’t force them to talk to you. Let them know that you’re always available, then wait for them to come to you.
Learn More About Helping Children of Addicts
You don’t have to be perfect yourself to make children of addicts feel loved. Whether they’re four or fourteen, you can be the bright spot in a child’s darkness by simply being present, consistent, and compassionate.
If you suspect that a child is being neglected or abused as a result of substance abuse, please contact the proper authorities. For more tips on supporting children with addicted parents, Fairwinds Treatment Center is here to help. Together we can help your family heal.