5 Ways to “Undo” the Damage to Kids Because of Addiction
The Herald-Standard, a newspaper published in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, recently posted a video online which is truly heartbreaking. It tells the story of a woman’s descent into drug addiction along with her husband, and how it ruined her life. Unlike so many other presentations of this type of story, however, it is told not by the woman herself, but by her son. The video opens with a view on the childish handwriting of the boy, saying, “Hi my name is John. I am 12 years old. Both of my parents are addicted to drugs.” We listen to him tell the story as it unfolded before his eyes, while he draws illustrations of what his mother and father looked like while high on drugs, the fights they would get into and how they would behave in front of John and his younger brothers. He tells us about how she would stumble around the house, incoherently mumbling. About the time she broke the dishes, broke the toys, pushed the refrigerator over and set the house on fire. About his little brother’s birthday, when she showed up and handed her sons a Lego set, told them it was their Christmas and birthday present for the year and then disappeared from their lives.
How is it possible to undo the damage that is done to a young child who has been through experiences like the ones John has, seen the things he has seen and felt the pain of losing a parent to addiction? Scars like these may never heal, but there are things you can do to help a child you love to move on:
Get Help for the Parents
Ultimately, children need their mothers and fathers. Whenever possible, get the addicted parent into rehab, and make sure it’s a rehab program that works. The parent needs to recover, and to recover stably, so that he or she can step back into the role of mother and father and give the children the stability and love they need in life.
Get the Kids into a Safe Environment
Can you imagine what life must have been like for John and his little brothers living with their mother and father? Seeing their parents fight, seeing the mother rage around the house and then disappearing for long periods? The boys now live with their grandparents, and an arrangement like that is often the next best thing to staying at home with mom and dad. If you are related to the children, or if you might otherwise be eligible for appointment as a guardian, do everything you can to bring the children into your home so that you can give them the support and affection that they need to begin the recovery process.
Get Nourishment for the Children
John was born addicted to drugs, because his mother was using drugs while he was in the womb. As shocking as this may sound, it is even more appalling to learn how common it is. Around 15% of children in the U.S. are born as addicts, often suffering painful withdrawals in the first moments of their life. This type of health history sets the stage for future malnourishment and illness. Even if a child isn’t born an addict, he or she is likely to suffer from improper nutrition and care while living with an addicted parent. “If dad wasn’t around, he was at work,” John tells us, “[his mother] would just feed us Cheerios, cereal, cereal, cereal all the time when she was always high.” You can go a long way towards helping the children by feeding them a balanced and healthy diet.
Keep the Children Together
John and his younger brothers are among the lucky ones when compared with other children of addicts: They are still living together in their grandparents’ home. It happens all too often that children in this situation are separated from their brothers and sisters when placed in the foster care system. This undermines what little stability they might have had left, being cut off from their last and perhaps closest family ties. If you’re a family member or friend eligible for guardianship, step in to make it possible for the children you love to stay together. It may not be easy, but it is well worth it to preserve their sanity and happiness.
Don’t Treat the Children Differently
Probably the worst thing that you could do in dealing with children of addicted parents is to talk about them with that label: “Children of Addicts.” Don’t say things or do things that will stigmatize the children. They’re already confused about why mommy or daddy chose drugs over them, and may be feeling worried that they will follow in their parents’ footsteps. Avoid using language that will make them feel judged or even associated with their parents’ troubles. Be frank and honest when answering their questions about the situation, but otherwise try your best to give the children an environment where they can simply feel like normal children. That’s the best thing you can do to help.