How to Explain Alcoholism to a Child

children with Alcoholic parents

There are millions of children that have alcoholic parents in the United States today. Often, children of those suffering from addiction could be feeling alone and isolated. They may feel like nobody could understand the pain they are going through. Children are all going through development processes that will help to shape them into adults.

That’s why it is important to address alcoholism to the child, to help with any adverse effects of them potentially not fully understanding the disease. Explaining alcoholism to a child can be tough, but it is not impossible and it is necessary. A child may begin to feel more loved, understood, and worthy once a healthy conversation has opened up.

Addiction is a Disease

Open the door to conversation and do not shy away from the topic of alcoholism. The adult conversing with the child should be a loved one or the parent that is not suffering from addiction. Of course, the loved one suffering from addiction could be invited to attend. The first step to explaining alcoholism to a child is to explain that you or their loved one has a disease. The child needs to know that their parent is sick in the same way someone is suffering from heart disease.

They need to get treatment before they can get better. The child may have difficulty understanding that their parent is not a bad person, they are suffering from a disease that causes them to experience physical and behavioral changes. The child may perk up and have a few questions to ask you about addiction. It is important to be prepared for these questions. Educate yourself using websites such as Mayo Clinic or Nar-Anon. This chronic illness has a long road to recovery, so it is best not to make empty promises to the child. They will inevitably get their hopes up just to have them crushed again. This will not help build up trust between you and the child.

Don’t Talk Badly About the Parent

Keep in mind that this is the child’s parent; someone they essentially look up to and love. There is nothing wrong with addressing what the person has done that was bad behavior, but also emphasize the love you feel for your loved one and your hopes for the future. The child will sense your positivity, just like they would be able to sense your negativity.

Displaying negative feelings is not healthy for you or the child. This could cause the child to sink further into their feelings of despair. Lead by example and foster a healthy environment of positivity and understanding that will help the child come to terms with what their parent is going through. When something negative is mentioned, always try to back it up with something positive.

Encourage Open Discussion

A child of a loved one with addiction can often feel alone and isolated. They may feel like they have nobody to talk to about the situation. Inform them that they can talk openly and honestly to you whenever they feel comfortable. Explain that you will not judge them for anything they want to talk about and that they should not feel ashamed for feeling any particular way. Tell the child that you will help guide the discussion and will try to help them to the best of your ability.

Explain to the child that it is always healthy to be able to speak openly about the situation to you. Consider asking the child how they feel when their parent does something. Such as, “How does it make you feel when your dad is loud in the house?”. Speaking like this allows you to open up the conversation. The child should be made aware that they can feel comfortable talking to you and asking for help if they need it.

Keep the Child’s Age in Mind

Depending on the age of the child, you will want to tweak how you word certain things and what facts you present. You do not need to provide all of the details to a very young child, who probably will not be able to grasp the concept anyway. Providing too many details and over explaining may complicate their feelings on the matter or further confuse them. For very young children, you will want to keep the conversation as simple as possible.

Try to explain the addiction in an age-appropriate way. Teenagers are usually able to understand how wanting something bad can lead to dangerous consequences. This could be a good stepping stone for basing the start of your conversation when you are explaining addiction. Make sure not to talk down to the child in a condescending way and be aware of your tone at all times. At no point should the conversation feel like a lecture. No matter the age, always highlight that what the parent is going through is not the fault of the child’s.

The Seven Cs

The Seven Cs, according to The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics, is a tool designed to help children understand that they are not responsible for the problems their parents are facing. The Seven Cs are:

  • I didn’t cause
  • 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

The child should be made aware that they are an exceptional individual and the actions of others do not reflect on them as a person. Explain to them that they are not alone and millions of children are facing what they have to go through. Offer them support and understanding. One of the most important factors is for the child to fully understand that how their parent is behaving and what their parent is going through is no way their fault. Alcoholism can have consequences for a developing child that has their world shaken by addiction. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, it is important to seek help immediately.