5 Tips for Supporting Children Living with a Recovering Addict
As an individual works through the recovery journey, it is important that children and other family members also have access to support and resources to help them navigate the loved one’s recovery. Recovering from addiction can have a dramatic effect on the recovering person and those around them. Children are especially susceptible to being affected if they’re not properly supported during this time.
Below are five tips to help support a child (or children) of a recovering individual.
1. Encourage Children to Share and Talk About Their Feelings
Open communication can go a long way in helping a child to understand the addiction recovery process, as well as to help rebuild trust and understanding between the recovering person and the child. Encouraging a child to talk about their feelings and emotions will also help eliminate the “don’t tell – keep secrets” code that previously existed in the household alongside the addiction.
Let the child know that it is okay to talk about what they are feeling and that their feelings are valid whether they are positive or negative. You should always listen to the child without reprimand or judgement. Allowing the child to share openly helps them develop healthy communication and avoids the child holding in their thoughts and fears.
2. Reassure the Child They Are NOT Responsible for the Adults Recovery
A child (and some adults) can form incorrect psychological assumptions of guilt and responsibility for the parent in recovery. With addiction, we already noted how important it is to help a child to see they are not responsible for the addictive parent’s addiction or behaviors. Likewise, when the parent is going through recovery, it is imperative to continue to reassure the child that they are in no way at fault or responsible.
Here are some things to keep in mind when offering reassurance:
Let the child know that their parent is working extremely hard to be a better parent and a better person and, that recovery is part of the process.
Help reinforce the idea that recovery is an on-going effort and, that the program of recovery involves daily work that the recovering parent must do to be healthier for themselves and for the child
For example: Sometimes a child may not understand why a parent must go for doctors’ appointments or meetings. You can help the child understand that these are healthy things that the parent is doing to stay in recovery.
Let the child know that the best way they can help is to let the parent know they love them and that they are proud of them.
3. Establish Clear Routines
Having clear, consistent routines outlined are important for a child to feel safe and secure again. Make sure the child understands the rules and expectations and purpose of every routine. This can help the child increase their level of security and certainty in what is happening.
Routines can be as simple as taking a walk every evening as a family or setting up a puzzle area in the house where the child and parent can interact together. Creating a bedtime ritual or resuming a forgotten family ritual can help the child become more certain of the new environment in the household is another idea.
4. Calmly Address Conflicts and Disagreements – Children who have lived with an addict often have a fear of conflict. They have likely become accustomed to seeing excessive, loud, or violent conflicts.
Help them learn that there is such a thing as healthy conflict, and it is a normal part of life. Show them how two people can disagree in a healthy, calm, and non-violent way. If they observe a disagreement or argument, they should be encouraged to stop, and help them understand why it happened and how each party handled the issue. Speak at a level that they can understand and explain how people can express their differences of opinion calmly and respectfully.
If they observe an argument or disagreement that is not handled well, that should be acknowledged in a discussion with the children. It is important for the child to understand that parents make mistakes but are committed to handling things differently in the future.
5. Talk About Different Support Resources
Talk to your children openly about the support they feel they need and help them to understand the resources they can access. Your goal is to try to understand and then provide the kind of support they need. Some children may benefit from talking to a counselor or even a trusted adult to gain reassurance about the changes in their household. Some kids may need a variety of support options. Your community or state may offer special resources or programs to help with families. Availability of such resources often varies by community but there are many things that you can do to support the child in the recovery process.
Also, check out our list of child-oriented books that may help a child better understand the disease of addiction.
6. Provide Constant Love and Positive Affirmation
Most importantly, reassure the child that they are loved and cherished. Many children of addicts lose faith in themselves and do not feel worthy of a parent’s love. In fact, some children blame themselves and believe that they cannot be loved by anyone. It is critical to continue to let them know that they are loved and cherished.
Books for Helping Kids Understand Addiction:
An Elephant in the Living Room by Jill Hastings and Typpo Marion
Up and Down the Mountain by Pamela Leib Higgins
The Dragon Who Lives at our House by Elaine Mitchell Palmore
Emmy's Question by Jeannine Auth
Other Addiction Help Literary Resources:
Understanding Addiction and Recovery Through a Child's Eyes: Hope, Help, and Healing for Families by Jerry Moe
Kids' Power: Healing Games for Children of Alcoholics* by Jerry Moe & Don Pohlman
*Note – although title only references alcohol, the games and content are also appropriate for children who are living in a household with other substance abuse.