Help for Children in Families with Addiction

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
A multi-ethnic group of children standing in a row in a school hallway, excited and laughing, watching something. They are in kindergarten or preschool, carrying bookbags. They are 4 to 6 years old.

When a parent is in active addiction—no matter how they might try to hide the situation—a child can sense that something’s wrong. Why is Mom sleeping all the time? Where has Dad gone? Without answers, kids tend to blame themselves for whatever’s going on at home, says children’s counselor Cynthia Galaviz-Olivas. Listen in as she talks with host William C. Moyers about self-care skills she teaches children who grow up with addiction in the family. Hint: Kids need to let out their feelings.

The magical part is we balance the program with fun activities.

Cynthia Galaviz-Olivas

0:00:24 William Moyers
Hello again and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of award-winning podcasts produced and brought to you by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. We focus on topics from treatment and prevention to research and aftercare and everything in between. And today, we're talking about the Children's Program here at the Betty Ford Center. My name is William Moyers and I am the host of our program here today. Joining me is Cynthia Galaviz-Olivas. Welcome, Cynthia.

0:00:51 Cynthia Galaviz
Thank you.

0:00:51 William Moyers
You are the Supervisor of the Children's Program here at the Betty Ford Center.

0:00:55 Cynthia Galaviz
That is correct.

0:00:55 William Moyers
Tell me about your personal passion for the subject of children in addiction.

0:00:59 Cynthia Galaviz
It was actually something that I didn't realize I had a passion for until I met the first kid who allowed me to be a part of their world and start sharing how addiction had hurt them in their family that I realized the privilege I was having about being there with them when they shared their story.

0:01:17 William Moyers
And you've been with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for thirteen years working in the Children's Program since the beginning?

0:01:23 Cynthia Galaviz
No I've been with the Children's Program almost seven years. Prior to that I was working in the Admissions Department at the Betty Ford Center for six and a half years. So I had to listen to the stories from incoming patients and their families. And so the opportunity to hear it from a kid's perspective really has made a difference in my life.

0:01:40 William Moyers
Sure. And what is that children's perspective that resonates with you?

0:01:44 Cynthia Galaviz
I think it's just that they know more than what they're given credit for. They might not know that there's a substance being used, but they know behaviors where maybe Mom's sleeping too much so they can't hang out with her—

0:01:56 William Moyers

0:01:56 Cynthia Galaviz
—Dad's missing, you know, he's left a couple of days and hasn't been back. And just the impact that it causes them and a lot of times because they don't have the answers to what's going on, they can start to blame themselves or think that it's something wrong with them.

0:02:10 William Moyers
And that impact on children is really significant in this country, right? I think it's one in three—

0:02:14 Cynthia Galaviz
Mmm-hmm. [nods] Yes.

0:02:15 William Moyers
—Families suffer from addiction? And so, thus, the children do, too. Is that right?

0:02:19 Cynthia Galaviz
That's right. That's correct. And I think there's a lot of programs out there for the patients which is great—

0:02:25 William Moyers
Yes. [nods]

0:02:26 Cynthia Galaviz
There's family programs, Al-Anon, even Alateen, but it seems like we're really afraid of asking the younger ones what they know and how they feel. And yet, they have just as many feelings as the adults do.

0:02:38 William Moyers
And so tell me how the Children's Program here works. Children come into the program on that first day?

0:02:42 Cynthia Galaviz
Mmm-hmm. So on the first day, we have a variety of emotions. There are some kids that are really excited to be here, whether they're used to going to camp or their parents maybe explained to them exactly what they would be doing here. We have kids that, you know, don't even wanna look at us. [Moyers chuckles] 'Cause maybe it's during summer break and they wish they were, you know, at home, sleeping, playing video games, things like that. And within an hour, the magic of the program—you can start seeing a difference as to how the kids are starting to feel more comfortable. And this is way before we even introduce each other and talk about how we're here to talk about addiction.

0:03:20 William Moyers
And you use—you use props like this. [gesturing to puppet in her lap] I don't even wanna say this is a prop; this is more of an icon. Tell us about Beamer.

0:03:28 Cynthia Galaviz
Ah, Beamer is a very special kid. He's dear to my heart. Special just like every kid that comes through our program. He has addiction in his family as well. So both parents are trapped by addiction. And he has a series of books where he kind of explores along with the reader how he deals with it. So he learns that addiction has been a family secret for a very long time. Mom gets better, dad doesn't. Even Beamer at ten years old gets offered alcohol by older kids. And so the kids get to explore that with him and relate because he is another kid and the kids start to understand that they really aren't alone.

0:04:03 William Moyers
What about the children though that are more significantly or adversely impacted or who come here and they aren't certain what to do and they have a nice warm person like you to talk to. And they've got a character like Beamer, but they're still not coming out of their shell. What do you to bring them into the process and bring them into the group?

0:04:22 Cynthia Galaviz
I think the magical part of the group—of the program—is because we balance our program between fun activities, whether it's hide-and-seek tag, going to the pool, watching a fun movie, and what we call sharing or learning activities. So the kids really get to get in tune with that "inner kid." And obviously they're kids so it's sometimes a little easier for them. But then they see the grown-ups get in tune with that as well. And so it helps them understand that you know I've had addiction in my family and I'm okay and I'm helping other kids, and so it kind of brings a comfort to them to know here's some adults that are freely talking to us and more importantly, they're listening to my story.

0:05:01 William Moyers

0:05:02 Cynthia Galaviz
And not correcting the facts, not, you know, letting us know that our feelings do matter.

0:05:07 William Moyers
And what are some of the stories that you hear when you talk to these children?

0:05:12 Cynthia Galaviz
Most of the stories revolve truly around just loving their parent. Regardless of what the parent has gone through. Whether they've seen the parent or not is just this unconditional love for that person and the hope that, you know, that they get better soon. And so although you know they're sad or sometimes angry about what's happened because of addiction, there's still that underlying love for that person.

0:05:38 William Moyers
And yet at the same time, that child can love that parent who's struggled with addiction, but that child also is told here in the Children's Program that they need to take care of themselves.

0:05:47 Cynthia Galaviz

0:05:47 William Moyers
Talk to us about some of the coping skills that you empower children with.

0:05:52 Cynthia Galaviz
Yeah so I would say we teach them in a very subtle way. We talk about how, you know, to let out your feelings you can talk about it, you can draw, or you can write.

0:06:03 William Moyers
Mmm. [nods]

0:06:03 Cynthia Galaviz
The self-care also comes through the play that I mentioned as far as going to the pool—

0:06:07 William Moyers

0:06:08 Cynthia Galaviz
Playing hide-and-seek tag, just hanging out with friends that have the same problem in the family without necessarily having to keep talking about it. And that's that connection to other kids and like I said to the counselors as well.

0:06:21 William Moyers
What about the children who have—whose parents are still struggling? Or worse, what about a child who's lost a parent to this illness? How do you help them?

0:06:33 Cynthia Galaviz
Yeah those—we've had those stories and they're pretty sad. But the kids still have hope in the sense of that they are gonna be okay. You know, addiction is a very horrible disease and, you know, we talk about how it can get people to get very very sick and they could die. However, the kids understand that well I can still take care of myself. I can go to school, I can make sure that I'm letting out my feelings but also at the same time making sure I'm having fun.

0:07:03 William Moyers
What have you seen over the course of the last seven years, though—you moved into the Children's Program around the time that the opioid epidemic began to really become, well, an epidemic. And one that everybody was caught up in in one way, shape, or form. Has your approach to children changed over the years as it relates to the current events of addiction in America?

0:07:28 Cynthia Galaviz
Not necessarily. And only because kids focus more on the behaviors.

0:07:33 William Moyers

0:07:34 Cynthia Galaviz
So, it's not so much, you know, oh they're—my parent drinks alcohol so this is why they act this way. Or they, you know, take opiates so this is why they act that way. For them, it's you know they're not being able to hang out with 'em or if the parent's away in treatment, they miss birthdays—

0:07:50 William Moyers

0:07:50 Cynthia Galaviz
—And things like that. And for kids, it's more of like not—I know I'm not getting the parent that I know that this person can be. So for them it's mainly the behaviors that they see versus the actual substance.

0:08:02 William Moyers
The program is it a five-day program?

0:08:04 Cynthia Galaviz
It's a four-day program.

0:08:05 William Moyers
Four-day program. How do children take what they learn here and apply it though in a practical or real sense back in the home?

0:08:16 Cynthia Galaviz
Yeah, well, they get to decide who their safe person is.

0:08:19 William Moyers

0:08:20 Cynthia Galaviz
Which we explain to the parents as well.

0:08:22 William Moyers

0:08:23 Cynthia Galaviz
And sometimes it could be not the parents. Maybe it's an older sibling or, you know, maybe it's Beamer. They can at least let it out and talk to them about it. So for us, the most important thing is for them to either reach out to us, the counselors, a school counselor, their parents ideally, and just share their feelings about anything. Whether it's about addiction or other issues that they might be going through like bullying—

0:08:46 William Moyers

0:08:46 Cynthia Galaviz
—And losing friends, or being offered drugs themselves.

0:08:49 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. And is there any sort of interface or interaction between what happens here in the Children's Program and here I mean not only here at the Betty Ford Center in California, but we also have the Children's Program in Denver and in Minnesota now—

0:09:02 Cynthia Galaviz
Yeah, mmm-hmm.

0:09:03 William Moyers
—At our Center City site that's very exciting to have expanded that program. But is there an interaction between what happens here in the program and back in the child's school or in their church or in the rest of their lives?

0:09:18 Cynthia Galaviz
Well we've seen especially when we do our school programs—

0:09:22 William Moyers

0:09:22 Cynthia Galaviz
—The teachers actually see a difference in the behavior of the child. And it doesn't necessarily mean a misbehavior, but, you know, we're asking kids sometimes to focus on their math homework when all they can do is think about how Mom has slept all day—

0:09:36 William Moyers

0:09:36 Cynthia Galaviz
—Or they've had to take care of their siblings. So allowing the kids just to be able to talk about that sometimes can be like enough for them to be okay, I can focus on this for a little bit because now I know I can go talk to someone, whether it's their school counselor like I said or their parents or even calling us again. The counselors here.

0:09:53 William Moyers
We've had some of your colleagues on these podcasts. Jerry Moe, of course, the legendary Jerry Moe, and Helene Photias.

0:10:00 Cynthia Galaviz

0:10:02 William Moyers
And we were talking about it in one of those other podcasts the fact that these podcasts, these Let's Talk podcasts, are available online.

0:10:10 Cynthia Galaviz

0:10:11 William Moyers
And we know that children are also online.

0:10:13 Cynthia Galaviz

0:10:13 William Moyers
And we also know that children are rather innovative online. And we know that some of them are going to be searching through their search engine, on their computer or phone, for more information because they've got something going on in their own families with addiction and they're gonna come across this podcast—

0:10:28 Cynthia Galaviz

0:10:28 William Moyers
—And they're gonna come across you and Beamer.

0:10:30 Cynthia Galaviz

0:10:31 William Moyers
What would be your message to a child who might be tuning in to these podcasts?

0:10:36 Cynthia Galaviz
The biggest message I would want a child to hear would be that they're not alone. There is a world of us and I say us 'cause again I had addiction in my family. That we are here to listen to their story 'cause their story is special. And that they didn't—it's not their fault. Whatever's going on at home with their parents, it's not their fault. And most of all that their number one job is to be a kid and have fun.

0:11:02 William Moyers
And what about that asking for help component?

0:11:04 Cynthia Galaviz
They can, you know, call us themselves, I've had kids who their parents have mentioned coming to the program and you know the kids have different questions than parents. And so I've talked to kids and usually it's what's gonna be for lunch, what movie are we gonna watch, what kind of cookies will we get? [Moyers chuckles] And we're here to answer any question 'cause all questions are important. Especially when they come from kids.

0:11:24 William Moyers
And it's a serious topic but it's a kid-friendly environment in terms of how we approach this difficult issue with children and put them on their own roads to recovery.

0:11:35 Cynthia Galaviz
Exactly. They—they get to meet our superhero T & R which stands for Treatment & Recovery. And they get to hang out with the superhero anytime that they let out their feelings. And, you know, anybody who talks about their feelings regardless of it's about addiction or other issues, that's their treatment in recovery.

0:11:51 William Moyers
Well thank you so much for taking the time today to share your personal passion and your incredible professional expertise. I know you are a beacon of hope—

0:12:01 Cynthia Galaviz
Thank you.

0:12:01 William Moyers
—For people who and families who are struggling with this issue. And your—it's so important to know that we have people in the front lines not just addressing the problem but also promoting the solution.

0:12:13 Cynthia Galaviz
Thank you.

0:12:13 William Moyers
So thank you, Cynthia, for being with us today. And thank all of you for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk. If you find these podcasts intriguing or informative and I know you do, please tell your family, your friends, your colleagues at work, your community, and most of all, make sure you share this with your children. On behalf of all of us here at Hazelden Betty Ford, thanks for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk. We'll see you again soon.

Want to learn more? Select a Tag to explore a particular topic or browse articles.