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September 14, 2018
You’ve made the decision to seek residential treatment for your drug, alcohol or behavioral health problem, but you’re reluctant to tell your children. However, not being honest with your children about going or rehab is something most parents later regret. For more on this subject, see Telling Your Kids the Truth.
While the conversation will not be easy, it’s best to choose a time when you have minimal distractions and an open-ended time frame. Some ideas to consider:
You wouldn’t share the same information with your five-year-old as you would your 15-year-old. The message should be based on their level of maturity and ability to process abstract concepts.
The exact length of your treatment cannot be predetermined, but give your kids an approximate time frame (4–5 weeks) based on your conversations with the treatment facility.
Kids of all ages need a schedule and predictability to thrive. If different arrangements will be made for their childcare, school pick-up or extracurricular activities, you or a trusted caretaker should explain these changes as clearly as possible. A written schedule or calendar may be helpful.
While it’s important to explain you will be living in a medical setting and cared for by doctors, also emphasize you will not be confined to a hospital bed or room. It may be helpful to show your kids pictures of the facility that display a variety of treatment settings and activities.
Explain the treatment center has rules about how often you can use the phone, facetime or email. Tell your child how often you will try to communicate, but do not make promises. Explain while you would like to stay in touch while away, it is your child’s choice to communicate with you or not.
Give your child an opportunity to ask questions and share how he or she feels about the news you have shared. If he or she expresses anger, fear or sadness, remind him or her that there are no wrong feelings. If your child has no emotional reaction at all, be prepared for delayed reactions at a later time.
Even young kids need to know who they can talk to while you are away. This may be your co-parent, another family member or a trusted adult in the child’s life. Alateen is an organization that offers support groups, education and resources for teenagers who are coping with a parent’s drug or alcohol problem.
The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery is a unique treatment setting exclusively for IAFF members who are struggling with addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health concerns. Reach out to a representative today for more information.