How to Tell Your Children You Are Going to Rehab
You have made the decision to get yourself the treatment you need for your substance abuse and have got everything set in order. The only thing left is to tell your children where mommy/daddy is going. This can seem like a difficult conversation. In many cases, young children know on some level that there is something going on that they do not quite understand, while older children tend to know what the exact problem is, or pretty close. Depending on the age of your children, you will want to bring up the conversation in different ways. Experts say that no matter what the age, children should be told the truth and given a chance to convey their own thoughts and feelings. For young children it is often best to explain in simple terms and examples. Reminding them of a time when they begged for a toy or candy at the store and were told no but they still wanted it, can be a good opening. Comparing this to how mom/dad wants something even though they were told no. Saying that mom/dad does something that makes them sick, so they are going to get the help they need so they won’t be sick anymore. Or asking if they remember a time when they saw mom/dad sleepy or extremely happy when no one else was. These ways make addiction understandable for them. Using the word addiction isn’t necessary, since most young children do not know what this means. Relating addiction to their craving for candy or ice cream should be avoided as it may make substance abuse seem less dangerous as they get older and face their own decisions with peer pressure. For children who are older but are not quite teenagers yet, you should provide details if they ask for them. This is not an ideal time to talk to them about the dangers of substance abuse, that is a talk for a different time and place. You should explain to them what the addiction is and why you are going away. They probably know something about addiction in this point of their life and may have questions about it for you. For teenagers, they will know pretty well the basic idea of addiction. Since they have an idea about addiction, you should be honest with them and with any questions they may have for you. They most likely have seen some of the use or recognized when you were using. They may feel happy for you making this decision on your own. You can bring up a specific situation and then explain it that way to them. Many children throughout their childhood and teenage year often see any problems in the family dynamic as their fault. That is why it is so important to have these conversations with them, no matter the age. Find a way that is easiest to explain to your child what has been going on and what is to come. Make sure to reinforce that this is not their fault, they did nothing wrong, but that mom/dad needs to get help and that is what they are doing. It also may be helpful to have the person who is going to take care of them while you are in treatment there. Use this time to explain that so-and-so will be taking care of things while you are in treatment and may even help a little after. The person who will be taking care of them may be the other parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, will be able to comfort them by letting them know things will go as scheduled such as continuing school, sports, and other things the children have come to expect. Another important thing is to think about as a parent, is how your child feels. It is important for them to know that they are heard, that their feelings and thoughts are not being dismissed. It may be helpful to ask if they want to see a therapist. They may not want to or know if they want to see a therapist. For young children, the idea of talking to a stranger about their feelings may be too much. There are support groups for children with parents suffering from or recovering from substance abuse that can offer them education and tools to deal with this. It is important to make sure that your children know about and have all the resources available to them. Some support groups for children are:
- Adult children of alcoholics (ACA)
- Confident Kids Support Groups
- Al-Anon Family Groups
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics
- Children of Addiction Support Groups
Make sure that your children have the same access to help and support that you do. This will help them understand your situation better and make them feel more comfortable.