Talking to children about alcoholism can often be a very difficult thing to do. Children, who don’t see the world as grown-ups do, or do not really even know what alcohol is, may not understand things the way we do.
If you’re helping a child deal with or understand a parent in recovery, or if you ARE a parent in recovery, it’s important that you learn how to talk to children about alcoholism. To begin with, remember to talk to the child in terms the child understands and make things as simple for them to understand as possible.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are illnesses. It is manageable, it is treatable, some may even say it is curable. But it is important to remember it is a condition – and so explaining it to children as the person being sick could be a good way for children to understand it and identify with it. Kids can easily relate to being sick or not feeling very well.
They also understand what getting better means. The hard part will be explaining that some medicines are bad – and too much of anything can make you REALLY sick. (Think cookie dough example – if you ate an entire bowl of cookie dough, you’d have a sick belly.)
Once the child understands that drinking or drug use is harmful, and is like being very sick, the next step is to reinforce how it relates to the child. A child needs to be assured that he or she is loved and cared for, that their parent (or friend/family member) still cares about them, and that they are not to blame for the person being sick.
Talking to the treatment counselors will help you prepare explaining alcoholism to the child of an alcoholic. There are also many books available on talking to children about parents’ illnesses and when a parent is an alcoholic or overcoming addiction, which we’ve displayed below.
I want to encourage you to not avoid discussing these issues with the child. Doing so is taking the easy way, but it will make things more difficult for the child to deal with the older they become.
If you do not feel prepared to discuss this material with the child, seek help. Contact an Al-anon group in your area. They will be able to direct you to the best resources in your area for talking to children about alcoholism and drug abuse.
You may find that there is not a convenient group in your area. If this is the case, begin by visiting a library and looking through the books they have on the subject. You can make a world of difference in the life of a child who is dealing with an alcoholic mother or father.