When and how to talk to kids?



Hi everyone, first post here although I’ve been active in many other message boards and Instagram for years. My question is about talking to your kids and explaining what is happening. First some quick background. My wife and I have been married for nearly 14 years. We have 2 children, a 12 year old and a 10 year old. My wife has been struggling with alcoholism for just about 10 years now. She is not a daily drinker, but she probably drinks 2-3 times a month. She hides her drinking so I don’t know for sure. She doesn’t often get fall down drunk but it’s usually somewhat apparent that she isn’t quite right, at least to me.

Anyway, my daughter (the 12 year old) has recently been commenting about how mom seems “tired”. This has been happening for the last 6 months or so, and it is always when my wife has been drinking. She will say “I know mom is tired because her face gets red and she gets the hiccups”. She mentioned it to me tonight again and I’m wondering if it is time to tell her what the tiredness really is. I can tell she suspects it is something else, but she doesn’t really understand. On the one hand, I think that would be the right thing to do, mostly because I grew up with alcoholic parents and no one ever commented on what was happening, and that was really hard for me. On the other hand, I think she’d be really shocked and saddened to hear this about her mom. She’s at a really critical point in her development in terms of peers and confidence, etc, and I’m just worried this may have a negative impact there.

Anyone who has thoughts on this, I’d love to hear it. Also if there is any guidance on how to do this, please share. I looked online and can’t find anything. Thanks all.

Should I tell my teenage brother the truth about my husband's overdose?

Really important question @aloneikeepthewolves. Thank you for asking! Wondering if you might find some insight on this post, or if @ashleykm3 might have some insight here?


Agree with @Katie here, this question is really important. I understand the hesitation in confronting your daughter about her mom drinking— we don’t want to do it in a way that’s inappropriate, yet we don’t want to give them false information either. At 12, she probably has some understanding of alcohol and its effects — another reason to be upfront with her, because you don’t want to make her feel like you’re not giving her the truth.

I can relate to this a lot, given that I was in your daughter’s situation when my dad’s drinking situation got bad. At one point my dad just opened up about it, and explained that when he drank too much, he behaved a certain way.
I’d sit down with your daughter and tell her that you love her mom a lot, and no matter what happens, you’ll stick together through it, but that mom has been having some trouble with drinking and handling alcohol, and that it sometimes results in her getting a flushed face and hiccuping— or seeming “tired”.
I think she’ll definitely appreciate you being upfront with her. I think something that I wish I would have been told when I was younger was that so many families go through this, and that there is something being done to fix it.


Thank you for the brave question. As a child of an alcoholic (Dad) and grandmom who I didn’t know was drinking out of her coffee mug. I would have been more understanding and prepared with the knowledge of what was going on. Knowledge gave me information to seek out additional resources and choose counseling. I may have blamed myself for the adult’s bad behavior. You know your daughter best and how to present information. As a young “tween” I handled direct and honest information. I explained to my son at a very young age (about 7 or 8) a bit about mental health because of some negative behavior by my Dad. While it was long ago, I believe I said something like…
Grandpop has a problem in his brain that sometime causes bad words to come out. Some people take medicine when sick or wear glasses when they cannot see. He has a sickness in his heart that can’t always be fixed all the time. Sometimes bad words or bad things happen. I’m sorry that you where here when that happened. As he got older, I explained some folks just have some black in their hearts and not ready to heal. Kids experience meanie weenies, so while not fair, it is hard to live with it at home. it is something to learn from, learn how to react to ugly behavior and/or be aware when to leave the situation. I adjusted the explanation/story based my son’s ability to absorb information and the situation. For me, growing up, I preferred knowing the reason for “why” Dad or Grand mom were acting out of the ordinary. Thank you for asking the question and being a member of the Village!


Wow @Marie_Marie this is such amazing wisdom and words and made my heart melt a little. Thank you for sharing with us.


@aloneikeepthewolves Is there Alateen in your area? If it was me I would sit down with my girl and first ask her what she knows about alcohol so I could see where her mindset was. Fro there I could tell how to proceed and I’d just open my heart and talk to her without scaring her or freaking her out. Then I’d let her know that I was always there to talking I’d also put it on the table that if she has questions or concerns about any of it and didn’t want to talk to me I’d find a teen support group/counselor that she could turn to.


Bumping this important topic back to the top of our community. Such wonderful insights from our Villagers! I wonder what our community today has to share about this topic.


Thank goodness, I don’t have any kids to have to have that talk.


All of this is Just My Humble Opinion. I try not to give advice though I still catch myself doing it

Alateen can be brilliant for kids. Their isolation is as big as yours. When my father was drinking, I hurt. Now there are online meetings, too.
They need someone to tell them it isn’t their fault and to explain why it isn’t.
They need to understand their mother is sick. She is not responsible for her sickness but she is responsible for getting better. No matter what they do or don’t do she is responsible for recovery.
There are books written for kids who have parents with substance abuse disorders. Try the Library and bookstores. Kids’ books are written for their age level.
Finally, you will feel better after doing this however imperfectly. This is all new for you, too. You might want to remind them that none of them had lessons in school about this subject. You will learn as fast as you can. So will they. There will be big feelings, some good, some bad. I hope they will never have a spouse, child or grandchild with substance abuse disorder. I have. I did not learn this in the 60s. I had to go through a spouse and my kids.

Give them a hug for me


First, kudos to you in even bringing this question up. Addiction is so complex, and the fact that your children made it to these ages without knowing it exists is your household is pretty amazing. I have adult children that struggle with substance abuse and their young ones have not had the privilege of not knowing about it - it’s been a part of their lives for a long long time.

I would recommend you have a conversation with your wife and let her know the questions and comments that have come up. Let her know you’d like to be honest with the kids and would like her to cooperate in that conversation. It might be good to be good for her to know there are questions from your kiddos.

As a child I had an alcoholic dad and a mom who used both drugs and alcohol and I bounced back and forth between the two after they divorced. As a child I always knew something was different about my mom but didn’t know what or why. My dad landed in recovery and attended AA weekly and brought us along for alatots and alateen and I think that was positive for us as kids. After we know “what” was different about our mom, attending those programs helped us in understanding where we fit in all of it and helped us avoid jumping into blaming ourselves as kids for what we couldn’t control.

I think it’s great that you’re picking up on things with the kids and connecting the dots in what they’re asking. It’s also great that you’re viewed as a trusting person who they can go to with these types of questions as many kids wouldn’t. I applaud you!


@Deanna1- thank you so much for taking the time to share with this community. I always learn something from you!


I do not have kids, but I have 2 siblings (m16 and f11). My brother does not do drugs or drink, but he understands how drugs work and does his “research.” My family lives in another country, so I cannot watch them. I do talk to my brother often on the phone, and we have honest conversations. The only thing is that I have never told him that my husband overdosed. He thinks it was an accident. Really, nobody in my family except my mom knows about it.
I am worried about my brother. he is at that age when curiosity can get him in trouble. Even though I trust him, I feel like I have to be honest with him about my husband’s death. Should I tell him the truth? Should I have an honest conversation with him about drugs?

Should I tell my teenage brother the truth about my husband's overdose?

@nastya.s - that’s a really great question. I think honest communication about drug use and mental health is really important, and it would open up the door for your brother to trust you and talk to you about drugs if anything ever comes up with him. Maybe it’s something you should talk to your mom about too, and you could all have the conversation together?

If you are worried about your brother, setting up safe space to have hard conversations with no judgment, or even just regular check-ins to keep up with how he’s doing, can be a good way to improve your relationship and possibly lessen the chances of him turning to substances in the future.


I think a 12 year old could handle the news her mother has the disease of alcoholism . Only you can make that call. If you don’t have a counselor, it might be time to get one. If you’re not in Al-Anon and Alateen, you may want to do that. Alateen is brilliant at explaining what happens to the alcoholic and to the family. Look up the number for Al-Anon online and call them to learn about both programs. There are no fees for attending.