During this difficult pandemic, many state governments now mandate that children stay at home with their families or guardians. For countless children, weeks stuck inside prove boring but essentially harmless. For children who live in an environment with substance abuse or addiction, the extra time at home can be perilous.
Restricted Access to Positive Interactions
Children who live with adults who heavily use drugs and alcohol during periods of quarantine or confinement may have little to no access to positive interactions with people who normally uplift them:
- Teachers who accept them
- Coaches and mentors who support and compliment them
- Friends who offer respite during play dates and hangouts
- Extracurricular activities that give them outlets for their emotional pain or frustration
In this post, we focus on the generational impact that addiction has on kids and what we can do to support them. A new study shows that, whether we want to believe it or not, parents’ addictions affect their children’s development. Further, the stage of childhood development most affected by addiction is arguably the most important stage, roughly ages 2 to 11.
The Impact of a Parent’s Addiction
Parents who struggle with addiction put their children at a disadvantage in the following ways:
- Their children are three times more likely than other children to be psychologically, sexually, or emotionally abused
- Their children are four times more likely than their counterparts to be neglected
- Their children experience lags in their biological, emotional, and linguistic development
- Their children are more likely to have educational milestone delays and difficulty in school
Further, children who grow up around addiction usually experience the following emotions, which they may or may not resolve later in life:
- Guilt: stemming from a sense of some inherent failure that causes their parents to prefer a substance to them
- Shame: stemming from their parent’s behavior or failures
- Anxiety: stemming from a constant fixation on what consequences or events may arise from their parent’s substance abuse
- Loneliness: stemming from a sense of emotional abandonment
So what can we, as family members, teachers, counselors, or parents ourselves do to help children in these nuanced and challenging situations?
The Four Cs of Good Parenting & More
Well, we can start with the four Cs of good parenting, which can be extended to any interactions with children:
- Care: being affectionate and kind with children
- Consistency: following through on what we say we will do
- Choices: encouraging the child to make their own choices, helping them build a sense of autonomy and control
- Consequences: putting into place consistent consequences for the child’s negative and positive behaviors
Additionally, we can also practice these different approaches to support:
- Don’t insist on knowing every detail of what goes on at home.
- Don’t speak badly of the parent, parents, or primary guardian with the substance problem. Children love their moms and dads, despite their flaws. Bad-talking the parent may have a negative or inflammatory effect on the child’s emotional state.
- Enforce the fact that their parents’ actions are not the child’s fault.
- Look holistically at the child when they display ‘bad’ behavior, and see their actions as responses to their home life.
- Help children identify and speak about their emotions.
- Promote play and silliness in appropriate contexts.
There are also behaviors to avoid when caring for kids in vulnerable positions:
- Try to resist the urge to do what Psychology Today refers to as ‘helicopter parenting’ or monitoring children to the point of smothering them. Although we want to protect the child, we do them no favors when we overwhelm them with supervision.
- Avoid another type of parenting referred to as ‘snow plow parenting,’ wherein the adult attempts to remove all obstacles from the child’s life path. This is unfeasible and robs the child of crucial experiences in problem-solving that they will need as adults.
Let Us Help
And, most simply, during the pandemic and beyond, show up for the children in your life. Try to advocate for and engage with vulnerable children. If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder, St. Gregory Recovery Center can help. We offer a full continuum of care, including a family program to educate families about addiction and help them learn to better communicate and support each other throughout the recovery process.