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Talking To Young Children About A Parent’s Recovery

It is always a tragic situation when addiction enters a family household. Parents’ personalities can change dramatically when they use and, for the children in the home, this can be a confusing (and sometimes traumatic) experience. But as actor Dax Shepard recently told The TODAY Showhonesty can go a long way. And in his case, openness with his young daughters about treatment and the path towards recovery.


Shepard, who has openly struggled with addiction for decades, recently underwent a recovery stint after a motorcycle accident. Doctors prescribed opioid painkillers for his injury, which quickly escalated into a dangerous dependency. Relapses are real and Shepard explained how the recovery journey is continuous work. The tricky part though, was explaining the situation to his eight and six year old girls.


“They knew when I relapsed” Shepard told the TODAY Show anchors. “We explained, ‘Well, Daddy was on these pills for his surgery and then Daddy was a bad boy and he started getting his own pills.”


Shepard believes that honesty is critical throughout the entire recovery experience. It is something he has incorporated even when his daughters were toddlers. Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings are part of his weekly regimen and, rather than hide that experience, he and his wife Kristen Bell described the process in delicate detail.


“They know that dad goes to an AA meeting every Tuesday and Thursday,” Shepard added. “One of the cuter moments was back when my daughters really wanted to be with me 24 hours a day — and they said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to AA. She said, ‘Why do you have to go?’ I go, ‘Because I’m an alcoholic and if I don’t go there then I’ll drink and I’ll be a terrible dad.”


Of course, it is up to each individual parent to figure out the right way to discuss these types of situations with their children. But Shepard strongly believes that the honesty policy works, as long as it is explained in a meaningful way.


Shame and secrecy were also discussed during the conversation. For many parents, avoidance is a tactic that is used; which Shepard believes is not only harmful for the children but also for a marriage. We certainly admire Dax for his honesty and advocacy. As he explained in the interview, Shepard has now turned Bell into a champion for recovery (even though she never battled an addiction) and hopes to do the same for his daughters as they mature.