Josh is 14 and his older brother, Garrett, is 16. When Garrett started using drugs, Josh suddenly felt invisible. His parents were so focused on Garrett’s problems that they didn’t seem to care he had problems, too. Josh was understandably angry; maybe if he started using drugs, they’d actually pay attention to him.
Kara is just 8-years-old. Her big sister, Natalie, is 15. Kara used to look up to her sister, but not anymore. Natalie ruined everything. Since she started using drugs all the time, her parents have been totally focused on Natalie. They bailed her out of jail, paid for rehab and fixed the car she smashed up. It took four weeks to get the family car repaired, which meant Kara missed ballet classes for a whole month. By that point, Kara was so far behind that she couldn't take part in the school's ballet performance. It felt like all her mom and dad's time and attention was going to Natalie. Didn’t her parents love her anymore?
The Squeaky Wheel...
When a teenager is caught up in substance abuse, it’s easy to focus solely on his issues. While dealing with his addiction is certainly essential, it’s important to continue to devote time and attention to his siblings. These kids can easily get lost in the maze of the older child’s addiction.
Take extra steps to make sure siblings still feel valued, understood, wanted and loved. They need to know they’re an important part of the family, even though they have a brother or sister who demands a lot of attention right now.
Here are a few tips to provide the extra care siblings need during this difficult time:
- Make their events a priority: It may be hard to attend sporting events or concerts with the current chaos in your life, but it’s important not to neglect these events.
- Get in some one-on-one time: With so much of your energy devoted to a teen struggling with addiction, your other kids can feel abandoned. It’s essential to carve out time to spend with them.
- Compliment them: You may not realize it, but siblings of an addicted teen have extra demands forced on them. They have to do more independently or help out with additional chores. Be sure to provide positive feedback for their behaviors.
- Keep them active: Due to financial burdens, stress or embarrassment, you may be tempted to pull your other kids from extra-curricular activities. But this involvement provides stability and a healthy outlet for them - and that’s something you don’t want to take away.
- Educate them: While every detail about their sibling’s addiction doesn’t need to be shared (especially with the very young), it’s helpful to explain the basics. Help them understand what addiction is, why they need help and what you hope that process will look like.
- Consider therapy: As you know, the entire family is affected by your teen’s substance abuse. Look into family counseling, as well as one-on-one therapy for your other children.
- Stay vigilant: Having an older sibling who uses substances makes it three to five times more likely that the younger sibling will, too. Take steps to avoid this, such as prevention programs that focus on sibling influences.
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