For parents working to navigate their sober lives, there can be many obstacles as they rebuild their lives as both role models and parents. Talking to children about past experiences with addictive substances, addressing their consequences, and discussing their transformative efforts can be incredibly intimidating. However, talking to children about addiction is also an important part of effective recovery efforts while rebuilding a parent’s relationship with their children for a healthy future. 

The Barriers to Talking to Children

It is common for many parents to want to avoid discussing their past with drugs and alcohol with children. For some, persistent feelings of guilt and shame can influence their daily lives, and discussing such vulnerable topics can be met with fear of how they would be perceived by their children. Some may believe that acknowledging and discussing their use would somehow undercut their current role as a parent or change the way in which children would view them as role models. 

Others may avoid talking to children about their journey in recovery out of an assumption that they would not be understood, or that such a situation is inherently too complex for children to understand. However, avoiding talking to children about addiction can do more harm than good. Fortunately, we at Hawaii Island Recovery can help parents best approach such a delicate topic.

The Impact of Silence

Avoiding these discussions has just as much of a profound an impact on children as conducting them. However, such avoidance or silence can often have many negative consequences, even if an individual is continuing to manage their sobriety in recovery. For some, children may blame themselves for memories or traumas associated with a parent’s past use or the traumatic effects that a person’s use had on them. 

In order to engage in truly effective familial healing, parents and children alike must understand the role that addiction has played in their families. While talking about past addiction can be exceptionally difficult, there are many strategies that parents can use while talking to children to reach a new level of understanding and healing. 

How Can I Talk to My Children About Sobriety?
How Can I Talk to My Children About Sobriety?

Talking about addiction recovery to your child can be challenging. Engaging in an age-appropriate dialogue will bridge communication gaps. Call (866) 390-5070.

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Children Are Already Aware

While avoiding talking to children about past addiction may be an idea birthed from the idea that a parent is somehow “protecting” their child from such difficult topics, the truth is that many children are already aware of some kind of unique family history. Younger children may recognize that their home lives were somehow different than classmates, or may notice a parent’s drinking habits or mood swings from a very early age. As children grow, these understandings can become more profound, even if children do not have the proper vocabulary or understanding of addiction to articulate such complex feelings. 

While children continue to grow into young adults or teenagers, these feelings can further compile. Children may continue to experience their own symptoms of a paren’s past use due to these emotional challenges or traumas, such as:

  • Compromised self-worth
  • Inability to focus on hobbies or academics
  • Persistent doubt or anxiety
  • Self-belittling language
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Harbored feelings of resentment
  • Pessimistic or angry worldview

As children are already aware of the prevalence of addiction or the atmospheres and experiences it creates facilitates the need to address the topic honestly, even if it will make a parent uncomfortable or vulnerable. 

Strategies for Talking to Children About Past Substance Use

There are many ways in which parents can being talking to children about their journey with addiction and recovery. However, such nuanced and difficult conversations will always take care and planning to approach effectively. 

Be Honest

It is common to want to mitigate blame or minimize the effects of addiction due to inherent discomfort when discussing past use of drugs or alcohol. However, being completely open and honest is paramount or these conversations can have the opposite of the intended healing effects. Taking time to ensure that each person is ready to discuss such topics by saying words out loud in the mirror, writing down and editing what to say, and more can all be instrumental in facilitating the most honest discussion possible. 

It is also paramount to be ready to admit how addiction has affected the lives of children and apologize when necessary. For example, missing key life events, creating an unhealthy home atmosphere, and contributing to emotional distress are often common impacts of parental addiction that must be addressed with children to promote healthy recovery.  

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The 30 Best Substance Abuse Group Activities

Coming up with activities for group therapy can be a challenge at times. The activities you assign depend heavily on how comfortable your group is with one another. Try out some of these substance abuse group activities in your treatment facility. You might find a new idea or two!

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Prioritize Respect

Children demand respect in their own right, and infantilizing children can leave these conversations ineffective. Rather, respecting and listening to the opinions and effects of addiction on children while taking their questions and thoughts seriously is necessary to approach the conversion with respect and facilitate the best possible approach to future healing and communication. 

Show Don’t Tell

Talking with children about past use also comes with discussing how each parent is making an effort to rectify their past use and create a transformed future. However, having a plan and following through on dedicated recovery efforts, even after an individual has graduated from a dedicated treatment program, is paramount. Continuing to showcase each parent’s transformative efforts and engagement in Hawaii Island Recovery’s effective treatment programs in Hawaii is necessary to legitimize and showcase these recovery efforts. 

Seize the Moment

Being open about all facets of recovery can be a powerful teaching tool. Discussing the history and circumstances of each person’s engagement with addictive substances, its personal and extended effects on the family, and more can all help those in recovery become a powerful resource for helping children prevent making similar choices that led to such a destructive outcome. Approaching a conversation with this mentality of putting a child first can create a new perspective and inform the best approach to a future of familial sobriety. 

Talking to children about the past use of drugs and alcohol can be tricky, and many alumni are uncomfortable with or unsure how to approach the topic. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we champion the opportunity to facilitate further familial healing, even while continuing to personalize the strategies and journey for alumni managing their sobriety at home. Our treatment programs in Hawaii are dedicated to creating a system and atmosphere of familial healing, championing honesty, communication, and growth. To learn more about how we can support your continued sobriety and discuss the difficult topic of past addiction with children, call to speak to a caring, trained staff member today at (866) 390-5070.