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The child's experience

Seeing risk through the eyes, heart and mind of a child

Understanding the needs of each child and the different ways they see, feel and respond to their parent’s problematic alcohol and other drugs use is vital. By building a relationship with each child, you will get a clearer sense of how they are affected and of the strengths, resilience and courage they possess.

Here are some examples:

How my parent’s alcohol and other drug use shapes my life

The way I live:

  • There are no routines: ‘I don’t have a bedtime. No one wakes me for school. Sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t. Every day is different.’
  • My parent’s behaviour changes daily: ‘One minute you love me, the next you hate me and ignore me. One day you don’t care what I do, the next you punish me for going to the shops, because it is unsafe.’
  • I rely on myself: ‘I get myself ready for school, I sign my own notes. I don’t go to my Mum or Dad for help.’
  • I worry and take care of my parents: ‘I think about this every day. I worry about you and me every day. I’m scared you will die. I will make sure you are okay.’

How I think and feel:

  • Embarrassed: ‘I wish you did not turn up at school drunk.’
  • Ashamed: ‘I cannot bring my friends home because you might be drunk.’
  • Worried: ‘I’m worried you will die from using drugs.’
  • guilty and responsible: ‘If I was better behaved/did better at school, was a better child you would not need to drink or use drugs.’
  • Mum and Dad will stop if I make them happy: ‘I will make sure you are happy. I will be better. I will do whatever you need so you stop. I can fix this for you.’
  • I love and hate my Mum, my Dad: ‘I love you. I want you to stop. I hate you because you don’t.’
  • lonely and alone: ‘I don’t have friends. No one wants to come to my house. No one is allowed to come. I sit by myself at school.’

What I might do:

  • keep it a family secret: ‘I know this is something we do not talk about. It's the unspoken rule.’
  • be the parent when my parents cannot: ‘I will get my own dinner. I will get my little brother to school.’
  • be the very best I can be so they love me enough to stop: ‘I will get good grades. I will not get in trouble so it is not harder for you.’
  • act out: ‘I cannot control myself. I need you to see me. I need you to stop. I need someone to help me.’
  • use alcohol or drugs to cope: ‘I feel hopeless, lost, sad, lonely. Drinking is a good way to deaden the pain.’

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