Growing up with a parent suffering from substance use disorder is a difficult process that can affect the behavior and emotional development of that child later in life.

It is estimated that 25% of American kids grow up in households where alcohol dependence is present, and children of alcohol-dependent parents are the highest risk of children to develop a substance use disorder themselves. Children raised in these environments or with these conditions are more likely, due to both genetic and environmental factors, to develop depression or anxiety and use alcohol or other drugs from adolescence into their adult years.

A child’s development, especially between the ages of 1 and 4, is a critical period of learning where their behaviors and subconscious are shaped the most dramatically in their entire lifetime. Being raised by a parent with substance use disorder increases the chance that the parent will be unresponsible, unpredictable, or erratic with frequent mood swings. This can have a profound effect on how the child sees the world in the realms of safety and protection. Leading by example properly shapes a children’s trust for authority. 

Having a parent who suffers from addiction can lead to lifelong problems if the child doesn’t get the right help or support. This National Make a Difference to Children Month, let’s take a look at some of the ways that you, as parents, can celebrate your children by living a lifestyle that lifts you up while empowering your kids to grow and thrive.

Practice attunement 

Emotional attunement means that you are in harmony – first, with meeting your own personal needs in healthy and positive ways, allowing you to be responsive and available to the needs of a child. This harmony works in both parties’ favor – think of the perfection of the black and white yin and yang symbol. 

A lack of attunement from an authority figure early on in a child’s life results in an insecure attachment. This can lead to a situation where their authority figure is at times nurturing, caring, and responsive to a child’s distress, while at other times intrusive, insensitive, or emotionally unavailable. This can cause confusion in a child and alter their emotional development.

Children with this unbalanced ambivalent/anxious attachment pattern tent to cling to their attachment figures and often act desperate for their attention. This attachment pattern shifts from one generation to the next, as the child subconsciously mimics the strategies of the parent.

Practicing attunement is really being there – being wholly present – for your child.

Be a positive force

Celebrate your children’s accomplishments and point out their positives. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than you may think – adding a reinforcing stimulus after a certain behavior greatly increases the chance that that behavior will occur again, strengthening favorable outcomes. 

Rather than highlight and harp on perceived “negatives” in a child, amplify what you see as good in them, reflecting off what you see as good in yourself. This can be a wonderful exercise that can spotlight your children’s individual strengths, personality traits, and interests while giving you the opportunity to connect more effectively. 

Don’t try to mold your child into someone else. Encourage your child to be more of themselves.

Develop emotional discipline 

Find ways to cultivate and develop emotional discipline. Talk things through rationally and in a calm manner as opposed to spanking and exerting violence. 

The more a parent uses physical aggression, punitive discipline, and spanking, the higher a chance the affected child experiences hyperactivity, aggression, and oppositional behavior later in life. Rather than quell the issue, the punitive discipline only exacerbates the problems the child originally displayed with increasing severity. 

Children learn from their parents. Sit down with your child. If parents lash out in anger with physical aggression when upset, their kids are likely to do the same, just like they were taught.

Put the phone down

Children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop sleep disturbances and experience behavioral health problems. Take the TV out of the bedroom, limit screen time to no more than 1-2 hours a day for children aged 1-4 years, and create a culture that revolves around human interaction and real face-to-face experiences.

Set aside a part of the day where the family can interact with no technology (for at least an hour). Play games, listen to music, have dinner together – there are a number of things you can do as a family that doesn’t involve a phone. Explore the world around you!

Take your kids outside

Children are natural creatures that descended from the natural world – go outside!

A child’s physical environment impacts their cognitive and socioemotional development. Help your kids unlock the greater reality of their human experience by allowing them to get in touch with their natural surroundings. Have fun in discovering the myriad activities that are available to you outdoors. 

As mental health awareness increases, it is important that parents understand the options they have in seeking out resources if they or their child is experiencing any behavioral issues, trauma, or emotional dysregulation.  

Seek out support

Help is here. For those dealing with challenges in their life, it is important to share hope, discuss difficulties, encourage each other, and learn effective ways to cope. At Windward Way, we understand the enormous responsibility of parenting and are here as a resource to allow you to be the best parent you can be. 

Our family programs, as well as our individualized therapy sessions, are aimed at creating a positive environment and finding hope in recovery. Reach out today, or give us a call at 855-491-7694.