Children of Alcoholic Parents

Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics

At least seven million American children have alcoholic parents. Child psychiatrists know these children are at greater risk for having emotional problems than children whose parents are not alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in families, and children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics.

A child in such a family may have a variety of problems:

Guilt. The child may see himself or herself as the main cause of the mother’s or father’s drinking. ‘Anxiety. The child may worry constantly about the situation at home. He or she is afraid the alcoholic parent will become sick or injured, and may also fear fights and violence between the parents.

Embarrassment. Parents may give the message that there is a terrible secret at home. The ashamed child does not invite friends home and is afraid to ask anyone for help.

Inability to have close relationships. Because the child has been disappointed by the drinking parent many times, he or she often does not trust others.

Confusion. The alcoholic parent will change suddenly from being loving to angry, regardless of the child’s behavior. A regular daily schedule, which is very important for a child, does not exist because bedtimes and mealtimes are constantly changing,

Anger. The child feels angry at the alcoholic parent for drinking and may be angry at the non-alcoholic parent for lack of support and protection.

Depression. The child feels lonely and helpless to change the situation. Although the child tries to keep the alcoholism a secret, teachers, relatives, other adults or friends may sense that something is wrong.

Child psychiatrists advise that the following behaviors may signal a drinking problem at home. Classroom Behaviors of COA’s

Negative attitudes toward use

Lots of knowledge, familiarity with drinks or drugs

In stories or plays where there is a reference to alcohol, kid focuses in on use

High rate of absenteeism where there is stress, kids leave when feelings are discussed. . . asks to go to bathroom

Kids hang around after class to ask questions, don’t want to ask in front of class

Reports of parents’ chemical use

Strong negative feelings about addicts

Questions that indicate concern about self

Excessive tardiness and poor attendance

Exceptional concern about getting home on time - responsibilities

Inappropriately dressed

Has great ability to tolerate anger —avoids conflict

Is isolated — see themselves as different

Lots of vague physical complaints —headaches, stomachaches

Inability to concentrate

Sudden emotional outburst (anger)

Overachievers — overly compliant — gets taken advantage of

They don’t want teachers to talk to parents

Classroom Strategies for Helping Children of Alcoholics

Children of alcoholics need a classroom that is both a sanctuary and a place to show their competence. They need to live up to standards set by an adult who is compassionate but clearly in charge.

Here are some of the ways you can provide such a climate. They may not be much different from what you’d do for other kids, but they’re important for children of alcoholics.

Establish routines that lend structure and stability to the child’s school day. This may be the only order experienced in an otherwise chaotic life.

Empower the child with a sense that he/she is in control of at least some of their waking hours.

Give choices among learning activities. Along these lines, help develop problem-solving strategies, especially ways to explore options.
One good way to do this when you’re talking privately with the child of an alcoholic is to play the thinking game, “What else — who else?” which encourages coming up with alternatives to a problem situation. Here’s how it works: My dad is drunk when he picks me up at swimming on Saturdays, and I’m afraid to ride with him. I can get in the car, cross my fingers and hope like crazy we’ll make it home okay. What else? I can say “no Thanks” and go home with another child’s parents. What else? I can use the quarter in my pocket to call Mom. Who else? My neighbor. Who else?

This approach is in keeping with Judith Seixas’ advice to children of alcoholic parents in “Living with a Parent Who Drinks Too Much:” “Identify helpers before you need them.”

Help the child see learning as a safe journey. Set realistic expectations by building on what is already known. Do everything you can to make risk taking okay and to provide chances for success. You’ll be helping the child develop confidence and the sense of self-worth typically lacking in kids from alcoholic families.

Allow time for the child to do homework during the school day, perhaps in the school library; there won’t be any distractions.

Arrange for some “controlled socializing” for the child. This way, a loner can learn to work with other children in pairs or small non-threatening groups. Also, encourage budding friendships and participation in after-school clubs and community activities, Such involvement will help the child overcome the isolation that characterizes his/her life.

Help the child relax and just be a kid, and make it a point to incorporate specific relaxation activities into each day. Invite laughter and playfulness by sharing funny books, movies, and experiences. Tolerate giggling and wiggling at appropriate moments. Try physical exercise and meditations or guided fantasies to relieve tensions, Show all the kids they can learn to recognize signs of tension in themselves, and that though they can’t always eliminate these tensions, they can still learn to relax.

Support school alcohol-education programs. Without implying that you endorse drinking, help all kids examine the differences between responsible social drinking and alcohol abuse. Examine your own attitudes about drinking and be sure personal biases aren’t preventing you from treating the subject objectively

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