My nephew was three or four years old when I observed him sitting by the dinner table, sucking on an empty two-liter bottle of Coke. As his aunt, I felt I was required to teach him sarcasm from an early age. Therefore, I told him to be careful because if he sucked on an empty bottle, his head might inflate. Within a few minutes, I promptly forgot the conversation ever happened. Years later, when he was ten years old and visiting for the weekend, I saw him sitting at the dinner table, again sucking on an empty bottle of soda. I asked him what he was doing, and he said, “trying to inflate my head.” Seven years later!
One of the reasons I love kids of all ages is because in talking with them, you get an introduction to their inner world, the meaning they make of it, and the conclusions they draw. Children begin to understand and make sense of the world by observing adults, interacting with caregivers and other grown-up influences in their lives, and drawing conclusions that reflect their current developmental capabilities. Oftentimes, these conclusions are convoluted, funny, sweet, or sad. I call them ‘Rugrats Theories’.
“The Rugrats” is a cartoon about a group of toddlers and babies who, in every episode, are experiencing and making meaning of the world around them, usually with funny results. There is one episode I regularly refer to when talking about trauma with clients. The kids’ parents are in the kitchen talking about hiring a groomer for Spike, the family dog, while the kids are in their playpen in the living room. The kids overhear this and somehow reach the conclusion that the parents are actually bringing in an executioner to kill Spike. At the end of the episode, they leave believing that they successfully saved Spike’s life because they never bring the story to an adult and it is never challenged or corrected.
Fast-forward 20 years later, those children are all adults sitting around the holiday dinner table. One of them mentions Spike, who has long since passed away, and asks the parents if they remember all those years ago when they tried to kill Spike. All of the other children also chime in. The parents have no idea what they are talking about, and the story falls apart.
Every child grows up with their own ‘Rugrats Theories’ about events that they remember in their own way—some funny, some painful, some benign. As we grow older and develop, we start to learn how to challenge those theories and decide what still holds true. Ideally, that process is guided by adults we trust who can help us decipher the events and experiences of our childhood. Without their help, we only have our own limited ability to interpret the world.
For children growing up in a home where there is trauma, addiction, secrets, silence, and the lack of an adult presence to help them make sense of their experiences, there is no other course but to draw their own conclusions about what happened. As children inherently believe the world revolves around them, they also wind up blaming themselves when things go wrong inside the home. This belief can warp their mental and emotional development, particularly without adults in the mix to give them support.
Addictions and secrets are the death of family trust and healthy familial relationships. This blog is written specifically for families in crisis or who have suffered from trauma to help them:
1. Let go of the secrets of addiction within the family.
2. Use safe, age-appropriate measures for their children when disclosing those secrets so they can have the language and validation of their experience and are not left to figure out the world on their own.
3. Disclose addictions, particularly sex addiction, to children in a healthy way (please note that these tools are applicable to all addictions).
4. Address different age ranges and complications involved with disclosing sex addiction and how to do so with consideration for their ages, coping mechanisms, and support with the gentle honesty that our children deserve.
This blog will continue to discuss disclosure to children, specifically about sex addiction. Read more or get in touch with the experts at Off The Crooked Path today to start your healing journey.