How to explain addiction to a child?
Addiction is a complex condition that affects those afflicted with it and the loved ones around them. Understanding addiction at any age can be difficult due to its many layers. Still, it’s especially challenging for young children to understand what addiction is, how it affects a person, and what can be done to recover from it. Most children won’t be able to develop this understanding independently, and they must receive guidance and education from adults on the intricacies of addiction to prevent misunderstandings.
However, being an adult in this situation can be difficult, as being an educator on such a vast and sensitive subject is no simple task. Approaching the conversation of addiction with a child must be done delicately and with great care to not make the child feel anxious or paranoid about addiction. Luckily, various techniques and resources can make breaching the conversation of addiction easier with a child.
Use children’s books about addiction
If your child is particularly young, one of the best ways to teach them about addiction is through children’s books, where addiction is the central theme. Many available books tackle the subject in age-appropriate ways that children can understand, demonstrating how addiction affects people differently, and teaching children how to support family members who may be struggling with it. These books also take a lot of pressure off of explaining addiction yourself from the start, allowing you to continue the conversation the story started.
Keep the conversation age appropriate
When speaking to a child about addiction, you must keep all conversations age-appropriate in their content and how you frame the conversation. If your child is too young to understand alcohol or drug use as concepts, recontextualize the conversation and explain how addiction is like being sick, and when people are sick, they need help to feel better. Likewise, if your child is old enough to understand some of the addiction’s more complicated concepts, slowly and carefully explain them without getting too graphic. Any shocking visuals or explanations may take away from the overall message you’re trying to convey.
Answer questions honestly
One of the most important things to maintain when discussing addiction with your child is honesty. If your child has questions about addiction, answer them as honestly as you can to ensure they don’t have the wrong idea about how addiction works or what it is. While it may be difficult to answer some questions based on your understanding of the condition, try to find as much information as possible to provide honest answers so that both of you may learn something through these conversations.
Talk about what addiction looks like
Addiction can be hard to visualize but giving your child an idea of what the condition looks like can help develop their understanding of it. As mentioned before, making sure these conversations are age-appropriate is important, but explain to your child some basics, such as the impulsions to use and treatment methods such as drug rehab. Even if there aren’t any members of your family that currently suffer from addiction, building an understanding of what addiction looks like will help your child identify it should they encounter it.
No one ever truly stops learning about addiction; the difference is how early you’re able to learn about addiction to where you know how to identify it and how to avoid suffering from it in your own life. Addiction education is a truly invaluable resource at any age, especially during childhood, which is why it’s important to take any opportunity you can to teach your children about what it is and how it affects people. It may be a difficult conversation, but it will serve them well for years.
Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer operating out of Southern New Jersey. She writes for Maryville, a New Jersey rehabilitation center.