How Teachers Can Help Students Whose Parents are Suffering from Substance Use

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By: SUPE Editorial Team

Teachers are placed in a challenging situation if they know their student’s parent or guardian is addicted to drugs or alcohol or abusing drugs and alcohol. It is estimated that between 2009 and 2014 roughly one in eight children aged 17 or younger lived in households with at least one parent with a past year substance use disorder. Additionally, it is estimated that about one in ten children lived in households with at least one parent who had a past year alcohol use disorder.

Parental Drug Use Affects Child Development

Parental drug use significantly damages childhood development. The effects are harmful, and teachers can begin to notice some of the red flags. It is crucial for teachers to recognize red flags with their students.

Parental drug use creates a chaotic home life for a child—home life becomes unpredictable and chaotic. Their living environment will lack structure. Teachers may notice communication problems, discipline issues, and unkept personal hygiene and appearance.

Additionally, it breeds violence, and children can be on the receiving end of physical or sexual violence and neglect. The child may speak about their home life in specific ways that could raise a red flag for the educator.

It leads to mental and physical health problems. Parents abusing drugs or alcohol are likely struggling with financial problems, legal and domestic issues, stress, depression, anxiety, emotional or physical abuse, and many other problems.

Children become indirectly involved, which then takes a physical and emotional toll on the child. The child can begin developing mental and physical health issues, which the teacher would notice.

Children begin to struggle in a learning environment—teachers will begin noticing their student struggling academically. They are likely to become more distracted due to the stress they experience at home.

In addition, they likely lack sleep, food, love, and support, which would affect their academic performance.

How Can Teachers Help?

Depending on internal policies within each school or learning environment, there are some practical ways in which teachers can help their students.

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Take a caring approach

Teachers should take a caring approach and try not to pry. Children who grow up in homes with parents addicted to drugs are likely taught they don’t talk, share, or feel. A child or teen will likely not violate these rules. Teachers should engage in a more casual conversation, spend time with them, and encourage them to participate in activities.

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Remind them it’s not their fault

Teachers should remind their students it is not their fault. It is quite common for children and teens to believe their parent’s addiction is entirely their fault. They think they may have done something wrong or upset them. The Hazelden Betty Ford Center creates the Seven C’s: “I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t cure it. But I can help care for myself by communicating my feelings, making healthy choices, and celebrating me.”

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Ask open-ended questions

Teachers should look beyond their student’s behavior and ask open-ended questions. Students growing up in these homes will depict different behaviors and often lash out. There is always a reason for anger, and teachers should be encouraged to look beyond immediate behavior. Instead of asking what is wrong, consider asking what happened to you.

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Listen

More importantly, this leads to helping children and teens healthily deal with their emotions. The easiest way to do this is by listening to them speak about how they feel and what they can do about it. They may have no control over what is happening in their family life. Yet, they can begin to be more in control of their emotional responses.

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Let kids be kids

Let kids be kids. Young children or teens should not begin their early lives by being caregivers for adults. These responsibilities damage them, and they lose out on being a kid. Encourage silliness and provide every opportunity for a kid to be a kid.

Test Your Knowledge

Students Whose Parents Are Suffering from Substance Use

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Parental drug use can significantly damage childhood development.

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Should you pry into your student's personal life to determine if their parents are using drugs?

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How can teachers help students who are facing substance use issues at home?

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