What happens to the children?

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.


What do children need?

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.

Here's how you can help your children

The following 10 tips were compiled by BKK Dachverband. They can be found in the recommended booklet Nicht von schlechten Eltern (Not from Bad Parents) along with other helpful information.

Your child will sense that something is wrong. So it's better to explain exactly what's happening. You can wait for your child to ask you what's wrong or start a conversation yourself.

Explain what's on your mind and ask your child if they have understood you. Ask your child about their feelings, impressions and opinions, and listen attentively.

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.

Regularity and rituals in children's daily life can give them a sense of calm and security. Fixed daily routines and shared meals help your child cope with everyday life.

Don't expect yourself to do and manage everything alone. Ask for help and involve other adults (for example, family members, neighbours or friends).

Inform the school about the situation so the teachers know what's going on. This way, the teachers can better support your child. Let your child know that you have informed the school.


Children often don't want to burden their parents further and therefore discuss their problems with other people close to them. That's OK and no reason to be suspicious. Give your child permission to talk to someone else they trust.

Sometimes conversations aren't enough, or children don't want to talk. Then it's time to seek professional help.

Every parent shows love and warmth differently. What's important is that children feel loved and that you show it – every day anew.

Sometimes it's helpful to discuss an emergency plan with children, family members or friends. This can clarify who will take care of the children if you're really not well at all.


Frequently asked questions from parents

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.

Use the time when you are feeling well to talk to friends and relatives about childcare options in an emergency. If inpatient treatment is necessary, you can also discuss in advance with the clinic's specialist staff or family helpers about how your children can best be looked after.

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.


Where can I find help?

With our Help Finder, you can find services near you by searching by postcode. Here you will find nationwide assistance / online offers of assistance. And these helpful materials may also be useful for you.