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22nd of June 2018

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4 Important Tips for Talking to Kids About Alcoholism - The Good Men Project

—Addiction is a polarizing topic for which very few people have an honest and comprehensive understanding. In fact, it’s only over the past couple of decades that psychologists and healthcare professionals have begun to understand addiction as it relates to mental health and biological dispositions. So trying to explain alcoholism to a child is a huge challenge.

Some parents make the decision to never discuss their alcoholism with their kids, or to wait until they’ve grown up and moved out of the house. But if you want to do what’s best for your children, you need to open up about your struggle with addiction.

Here are 4 important suggestions:1. Make discussions age-appropriate.

Any conversation you have with children regarding your addiction problems should be age appropriate.

10 and younger. Young children can’t relate to feelings of addiction. They also have a tendency to feel guilt and shame for something negative that occurs in their lives. At this age, you need to make kids feel safe and cared for. Speak in broad terms and explain how you’re trying to make better choices.Tweens and teenagers. Once children enter into these years, they’re mature enough to understand the basics of addiction. They also have an expectation of transparency and need you to be honest in order to earn their trust. Speak in matter-of-fact terms while still ensuring they accept no blame for your condition.Adult children. When it comes to discussing your alcoholism with adult children, you have to apologize, accept blame, and assure them that you’re taking practical steps towards getting better.2. Encourage open dialogue.

You can’t just have one conversation with a child and expect everything to be settled. Open dialogue is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship with your kids. The Chicago Tribune reports the National Association of Children of Alcoholics suggests teaching your kids the “Seven C’s” as a basis for your conversations:

I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it. I can help take care of myself by communicating my feelings, making healthy choices and celebrating me.

This gives you some common language to share with your kids and point to when there are bumps in the road.

3. Show progress.

Don’t feel like you have to suddenly cure yourself of your alcoholism, just because your children know about it. While it would be nice to quit cold turkey, this isn’t the way alcoholism typically works. Instead, your goal should be to show your children that you’re making progress. One way to do this is by going through rehab.

“There are two different types of rehabilitation: inpatient and outpatient,” Drug Treatment Finders explains. “Outpatient is recommended for those who have a moderate addiction, who have the ability to control their addictive behaviors outside of the treatment facility.”

With inpatient rehabilitation, you actually go to a full-time facility so you can be closely monitored under the supervision of medical professionals. “Inpatient rehabilitation is recommended for those with severe addictions, who are not able to control their behaviors in a real-life setting,” Drug Treatment Finders points out.

Every alcoholic has a unique set of needs, so don’t feel like you have to do something that runs contrary to your personality or condition. However, sitting by and continuing to tread water isn’t healthy. Your children need to see that you’re taking strides.

4. Help them find support.

Whether you realize it or not, your alcoholic behaviors have affected your children in more ways than one. In addition to seeking support yourself, encourage your kids to get support from others who are going through similar situations. (You can find groups for family members of alcoholics on Al-Anon.org.)

Adding it All Up

There’s no easy way to talk to a child about addiction – especially when you’re the main subject – but you don’t have the option to be quiet. Either you’re the one to have open and honest discussions with them, or they’ll get their information from another source.

As you talk to your children about your alcoholism, make sure you’re also listening to their questions, comments, concerns, and feelings. Children need to know they’re being heard and will process information much more efficiently if they feel they have a say.

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—Photo credit: Getty Images

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