While you might be tempted to give your child another reason for your upcoming absence, it’s better to tell the truth, even if they’re young. The discussion could be challenging, but with the following tips in mind, it should be a productive, positive conversation.
1. Use Age-Appropriate Language
To tell your child you’re going to rehab, meet your child at their level of comprehension. This means keeping the conversation age-appropriate. The words you’ll use and the level of detail you’ll provide depends on your child’s age and maturity levels. Break down the details as simply and directly as possible.
2. Be Honest
Explain to your child where you are going and how long you will be away.1 Tell them you need treatment to get well. Be encouraging by saying that because you love them you want to get well, so you can be a better parent for them.
3. Explain Rehab
Explain rehab as the medical treatment that it is. Talk about the treatment center as you show your child pictures or brochures. Discuss the details of the program such as the schedule and the therapies you’ll be involved with. The more familiar your child is with where you’re going, the more comfortable they’ll feel about you going away there.
4. Discuss the Communication Rules
Talk to your child about the rules of the treatment center. Explain that you won’t be able to phone or see them as often as you would like, especially in the beginning. Find out when the first family visiting day is scheduled, and when you’ll be able to phone them. Put the dates on a calendar for them before you go.
5. Take Ownership
Your child may not have said much about your addiction, but they may know more than you think. They also may have been impacted more than you realize. Apologize for the pain you may have caused for your child. Your apology will validate their feelings.
6. Ask for Feedback
Engage your child in a two-way conversation by asking open-ended questions about how they’ve been feeling. Letting your child give you feedback will help them feel like they’ve been heard.
7. Clarify that It’s Not Their Fault
Many children feel they have some responsibility for their parents using drugs or alcohol.2 Tell your child that they are not in any way to blame for your substance use. Explain that addiction is a medical condition that they didn’t cause, nor can they stop it.
8. End on a Positive Note
Finish with a message of hope and reassurance. Explain that you’re going to rehab to heal and will return as a healthier, better parent. Let your child know how much you love them and how you’ll miss them while you’re gone. Make it clear that you will be coming straight home to them after rehab.