Mentally ill and addicted parents often feel overwhelmed, depressed or overburdened. At the same time, children in this situation need more attention than usual. Children – no matter how small they are – notice when something is wrong. They often ask their parents or other people they trust. However, some children also keep the problems to themselves and start to brood. It is important to speak openly with them.
Children have many different needs. Especially when you have to take care of your own needs, it isn't always easy to fully meet those of your children.
- Children need rules and boundaries to know what is allowed. This gives them a feeling of security.
- By paying attention and giving praise, you show children what they are doing well.
- They may need warmth, love and the opportunity to express feelings more than usual.
- By listening to children and responding with interest to what they say, you make them feel they are being taken seriously.
- Remain patient and allow mistakes. It is important for children to feel understood and accepted.
- Becoming independent and showing it gives children self-confidence.
- Role models give them support and guidance, whether they are parents, older siblings or teachers. Family members, neighbours or acquaintances can help with everyday parenting. Don't be ashamed to ask for help and accept it.
A child often shows how they are feeling through their behaviour. If they are behaving abnormally, it may be a sign that something is wrong. Address it and seek professional help for your child if necessary.
Your child has probably already noticed that something isn't right and may have been worrying about you for some time, or feeling guilty because they feel responsible. Speak openly with your child about your illness. Often, children are very relieved when the topic is finally addressed and they can voice all their questions and concerns. This helps and reduces exaggerated fears and feelings of guilt. Use the literature we recommend for an age-appropriate conversation with your child.
Your child will not lose respect for you if you talk to them openly about your illness. Your courage to talk about problems will also make it easier for your child to discuss their own concerns. However, it may be that your child takes on a lot of responsibility to help you with household chores or looking after younger siblings. Talk to your child if you sense they are neglecting their own interests, hobbies and friends because of this.
It's important to build a good support network and to speak openly about your illness with friends and family members you trust. In good phases of the illness, you can then work with them and your children to draw up an emergency plan for times of crisis, for example where the children can eat lunch or be looked after if you aren't doing so well. This can then be easily implemented in a crisis.
Current research suggests that children who have a parent with a mental illness or addiction have a higher risk of developing a mental illness or addiction themselves. However, with professional help professional help and support from friends and family, you can significantly reduce this risk for your child.
Youth Welfare Offices always welcome it when parents themselves get in touch and ask for help. They then try to support the family at home through different services. This assistance includes: social-educational family support (SPFH), which helps parents in raising their children; individual care services as supporting contact and activity partners for children and teenagers; day or student groups for more intensive afternoon care for children and to relieve parents; or family therapy support, which works out resources and helpful solution strategies together with all those involved. In emergency situations, when the child temporarily can't be looked after at home or by relatives and friends, you can discuss placing the child in the care of an emergency reception centre of the Youth Welfare Service.
Only in extreme emergencies, where a child's welfare is very seriously endangered, can the Youth Welfare Office bring children into an emergency reception centre on its own initiative. However, if the guardians object, the Youth Welfare Office is obliged to have the Family Court check at short notice whether this is really unavoidable for the child's welfare.
You can get more information and tips from the Federal Association for Children of Mentally Ill Parents.
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