By: Bill Blundell
As a therapist who works with children, it is common to work with children who are experiencing the loss of a parent or caregiver because they have moved to a treatment center for addictions. Living in Central Illinois, the options are limited when it comes to inpatient treatment, so many times the loved one attends treatment out of the area, such as The Meadows. This can become even more troublesome for the youth who is going through this experience.
The children of a parent/caregiver in treatment often times children experience varying levels of anxiety. Much of the anxiety is attached to the unknown. Not knowing what the outcome of treatment is going to be, will their parent/caregiver be a different person after coming home or will they ever get to see their parent/caregiver. For children who have a loved one near them in treatment, they can possibly visit on a regular basis for a couple hours. This does help alleviate some anxiety but it adds new anxiety of the simple fact they are seeing their loved one for a short time but know they will not be coming home with them.
At times it is imperative for the child(ren) of a loved one to receive therapy services while treatment is happening for the adult in the situation. It gives the child an opportunity to speak how they are truly feeling through this experience. Many times children do not want to be a burden on the parent/caregiver who is not at the treatment center, because they are aware of how stress the process can be for everyone. This becomes problematic for the child because they suppress their feelings. The result of suppressing to many feelings often results in a negative action. Many times with kids, this action presents itself in the form of anger.
It is important for children to learn the appropriate ways to deal with their emotions and in turn the appropriate ways for them to express said emotions. Sometimes the children in the matter feel as if they do not have a voice. With that said, they tend to keep things to themselves in fear of upsetting someone, especially the parent/caregiver who was in treatment and has since returned home. Children need to be encouraged to speak their minds when they are going through an experience such as having a loved one taking part in an inpatient treatment program.
One of the best ways to help any child in this situation is to find a professional counselor who will be a listening ear and provide feedback to the child. Learning ways to handle the stress and anxiety of having a loved one in treatment is something that can be provided by a professional counselor as well. Simple mindfulness techniques can be introduced in ongoing counseling to help keep the child calm in an otherwise chaotic situation. Also, utilizing groups such as Al Anon or Alateen is beneficial for children and adolescents to help them understand what is happening with their loved one and get a better understanding of how it affects the family as a whole.
Bill Blundell is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and also a Certified Forensic Consultant working in Peoria, IL, at the Antioch Group, a private practice. Bill specializes in working with anxiety disorders in both children and adults.