How To Help Your Other Kids Deal With Their Sibling’s Drug or Alcohol Use, with Nicole Kosanke, Ph.D. and Krissy Pozatek

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
How To Help Your Other Kids Deal With Their Sibling's Drug or Alcohol Use, with Nicole Kosanke, Ph.D. and Krissy Pozatek

They’re the ones left in the dust and shadow of a child who’s misusing substances – the siblings. They witness the craziness and chaos, see the manipulation of their parents, they might get blackmailed or harassed – it’s scary and parents are often left wondering what this is doing to their other kids – yet are so exhausted they don’t even know where to start.

This episode will be incredibly helpful if your substance-using child’s behavior is negatively impacting the other kids in (and out) of your home. I spoke with two of the foremost experts in family relationships, systems and dynamics – Krissy Pozatek, author of The Parallel Process, and Dr. Nicole Kosanke, director of family services at CMC and co-author of the must-read book, Beyond Addiction.

You’ll hear from these two about ways to approach the sibling relationship and practical things you can do to lessen the negative impact of having a brother or sister misusing drugs or alcohol including:

  • how you can apply CRAFT skills to help your non-substance using child cope
  • what younger kids really need when they have a sibling misusing drugs or alcohol
  • what magical thinking is and why it might be dangerous for your other kids
  • things you can do to help your other kids manage their feelings well
  • the role of parental authority in managing relationships within the family and making your home a safe space
  • approaches that are harmful rather than helpful when a sibling is using substances
  • what you can do about a manipulative or narcissistic child
  • figuring out what is age-appropriate information to share with siblings
  • and lots more!


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Speaker: Brenda Zane, Dr. Nicole Kosanke, Krissy Pozatek, MSW
Brenda  02:48
Welcome. This is an episode that has been in the works for a while, we are going to be talking about those siblings that are being impacted by their brother or sisters. substance use issues is a topic we parents talk about a lot, but there is not a lot of good solid information out there to help us know how to help our other kids. So I called two of the most brilliant and experienced people in the business of substance use and addiction to talk with me for this particular episode. And it took a little bit of coordination, but I got time with both Krissy Pozatek and Dr. Nicole Kosanke and we had such a great conversation. I know it’s gonna be really helpful to you if this is something that you’re struggling with. You might recognize Krissy’s name from Episode 22 of hopestream. She’s also the author of several books, the one you might be most familiar with is called The Parallel Process, which if you have a child who’s been in wilderness therapy, it’s basically the Bible and I bet you have read it. Dr. Nicole Kosanke is the Director of Family Services with CMC. She is the co author of the other Bible, the one I talk about all the time Beyond Addiction and the 20 Minute Parent Guide that goes along with that book. And here’s something that you might not know about Dr. Kosanke, in 2007 she was featured in the O Magazine- Oprah Magazine in an article about her clients experience in treatment at CMC. It was also later published in O’s Big Book of Happiness called the Best Of O, so if these two aren’t the right people to talk with about family relationships, I am not sure who would be. It is a little long because I wanted you to get every drop of information they shared. So I will stop talking now and let you hear from Krissy Pozatek and Dr. Nicole Kosanke. 
Brenda  04:50
Dr. Nicole Kosanke thank you so much for taking time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule to speak with me today. I just appreciate the time and I know the expertise you have here will definitely help the listeners. So thank you for joining me on hopestream,
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  05:10
you are welcome. I’m really happy to be here.
Brenda  05:13
I got in touch with you because the community that I host for moms, we get into lots of interesting conversations, but one that comes up time and time again, that’s very concerning to parents, but the moms in particular is what about my other kids who are experiencing this kind of whirlwind and you know, chaos of having their, their brother or sister either experimenting with drugs or an act of addiction. As you know, the house is usually a little chaotic. And there are lots of weird things happening. And often there’s police coming to the front door. And so they worry about these other kids when they’re older or younger, what impact that’s having and then wondering what they can do about it. And so as I was looking around for an expert to talk about this, your name came up. And so I just thought, this is so important, because not only is the stress of having a child with substance use issues hard, but then when you’re wondering, oh my gosh, what’s happening to my other kids? I just thought that that would be really important. 
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  06:26
Yeah, well, I am so glad that you did reach out. And I wish I could say that there was somebody who was really expert in this area, if there is I don’t know who they are, it’s I think, a bit of an underappreciated concern of parents and often doesn’t get the attention that it should, which is a bit of a parallel process with the fact that the non-substance using child often gets not as much attention as they should. And that’s the concern, right is the concern of how the trauma of these experiences is impacting those other children and how we can mitigate that, if at all, and how to sort of work with the issues that might come up with them.
Brenda  07:22
Right. And what I hear a lot is, and I’m sure this is not the right approach is well, we just don’t talk about it. Right, we just are the elephant in the room. Like we all know, stuff’s going on. And especially I think, if the kids are younger, and this obviously, you have to take age into consideration, but you know, if the kids are in their in of their early tweens, teens, they know what’s going on, but then no one’s talking about it. 
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  07:52
so a lot of things you brought up there. So, I mean, first of all, I think, you know, when we, when what you first said is, you know that oftentimes people just don’t talk about it, everybody knows it’s happening, or, you know, maybe there’s a hope on the parents part that will maybe they don’t really understand the full extent of this, and why would I introduce something scary, you know, into their minds if they’re not already aware of it. And I think that it’s, it’s pretty apparent to most people when there are most people in the family when there’s something like substances going on. Certainly, when it rises to the level of problematic behaviorism, there’s chaos and yelling, and door slamming, and police and stealing. And, you know, I mean, these are things that don’t go unnoticed. 
You know, it takes some energy to accept that that’s true. And then to realize what I think most people would agree, which is, if there’s stuff going on, and it feels like I can’t talk to mom and dad about it, it’s something we don’t discuss, then. That’s right, you want your kids to be able to talk to you and one of the primary goals of the communication strategies within CRAFT and the invitation to change model that we use at CMC. Those communication strategies are really aiming at the goal of keeping the doors of communication open. So making sure that your kids feel safe and comfortable in raising anything with you, you know, being able to bring up whatever feelings or thoughts or worries or concerns or observations they might have and knowing that mom and dad are not going to punish them for bringing it up that it’s not going to be considered taboo to raise it, etc. So a lot of the strategies are just in terms of communication, I really oriented around presenting that face to the child, whether the child is, you know, 10 or 25, you know, being an open door to being able to talk about stuff.
Brenda  10:26
Which I know is hard because often as a parent, you’re confused about what’s going on. So then it can really vulnerable to then say to another child, yeah, let’s talk about this, because you don’t have all the answers. But I guess that’s okay, too, just to say I don’t have all the answers.
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  10:45
Right. So it’s a painful microcosm of being lacking omnipotence, and lacking control over all the things we would like to control. It’s, it’s hard as a parent, when you, you really are realizing like, I can’t physically restrain this kid and can’t control his behavior, even though it’s super scary and dangerous. And I don’t even want to accept that reality that that is, in fact, where we are. And I have limited ways of influencing him, how am I going to talk to my younger kid about that. 
So it’s a totally valid concern, and quandary, but mostly what younger kids need is not us an explanation so much as being heard, you know, like, I’m worried, it’s okay to be worried, I hear you, I can see in your face, and it makes sense that you’re worried. And just that alone to have their feelings hurt, reflected. And validated is huge, right? It’s not like providing an answer. It’s not saying I know how this is gonna turn out. It’s not saying, well, it starts with biology. And then we add an experience, you know, it’s not sort of giving the bio psychosocial model to your kid, it’s meeting them where they are with their emotions first, and having them feel held by you as a parent, that it’s that their feelings and thoughts are. Okay, and not taboo.
Brenda  12:26
I like how you said, to be heard, like, hear them, reflect that back to them, I hear you and then validated. I think that’s really powerful. Because you’re right, you don’t a lot of times have an answer. So just having that to say, I know you’re hurting. I know, this is scary. It’s at least it’s a place to start. 
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  12:49
Right. I do think as you sort of alluded to before, like, you know, being unclear and not having all the answers is okay, too, in fact, sometimes really important to role model for your kids. Wow, I’m stuck in a tough situation here. And I’m working my way through it. And I’m talking to your dad, and we’re talking to some professionals, and we’re muddling our way through we’re going to make some mistakes, and we have already and it’s going to be a learning process for us to figure out I didn’t go to school for this, this is tough. And that’s a good, that’s a nice role modeling opportunity to demonstrate that you are human, and you are struggling with something and you just didn’t what I just said you’re sort of illustrating like and when you face a challenge, here are some things you can do. You can talk to people you love, you can talk to professionals, you can allow yourself to make mistakes, and you can make some progress,
Brenda  14:00
that makes a lot of sense. And that just hearing you say that even though we’re not in that situation, just sort of like brought my blood pressure down, like okay, you can acknowledge it and talk about it. And as parents, I think we do a lot of times feel that pressure to have the answer or to say, you know, here’s the next step. And even if you don’t have that, at least the communication is open. And that’s true. I hadn’t really thought about that being really good role modeling for the other child to be able to say the same thing when they’re in that situation,
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  14:35
one of the things that I think does happen a fair amount is that the non-substance using child especially if they’re hitting adolescence and starting to have some intense feelings and maybe not having as many words for them as they will down the road, etc. They may be the ones expressing a lot of anger. You know, they may be yelling, as well, they may be, you know, saying, Why are you putting up with this, you know, this is having a lot of anger towards a parent or having a lot of anger towards their sibling. And I think the same, same advice from my perspective would stand which is, you know, having those feelings be received as valid. And really heard, one of the things that is is tough as a parent in these situations is that you, you can end up sort of squashing those feelings in yourself, you know, so you have this kid that is using substances and really negatively impacting the family, and you’ve poured your heart and soul into them. And here they are doing these things that are so scary and hurtful, and, and you have a lot of anger about it. But maybe you’re not in touch with that, because you’re so worried about solving the problem and trying to focus on showing them love and compassion that you kind of squash all those negative, angry feelings and hear your other kid comes along and expresses them. And that can feel scary, as a parent, you want to get rid of those feelings. And so I think that, that reminder that actually having anger in the situation makes a lot of sense, and is totally valid.
Brenda  16:38
Are there healthy ways to that? Maybe? I don’t know, I’m thinking about like, I’ve seen these places where people go and bang on drums or whatever. Are there ways that mom or dad is saying to the younger child, Yeah, you know, I’m angry too. I don’t know, do you go on a walk? or How can you because it just helps physically to get that anger out and say, let’s be angry together, but do it in a healthy way.
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  17:04
I think that’s really, really great idea, I love it. You know, we used to think in psychology, we used to think you, you sort of get rid of those feelings by like screaming and yelling and pounding on a pillow or something like that. And what over time we’ve realized more is that part of the downside of doing that is that you are basically teaching your body to practice being angry. And so you want to find a way to help kids and yourself, have those feelings, those negative feelings, those angry feelings, and express them and acts, notice that they’re there, first of all, and then be able to express them and do so in a constructive way. But not dwell too long there. Right? 
So you want to find a way for your kid who has valid anger, and maybe hurt and feels there’s injustice happening, you know, maybe the rules are different for them than they are for the other kid or they follow the rules, but their sibling does. And you know a lot of feelings of injustice. And being able to validate those feelings and then find a way, like you said to take a walk around the block or go for a run or do something that physically helps them metabolize those feelings, but also sort of two birds with one stone kind of thing. Like you’re, you’re helping the child to have a coping strategy in life. Right. So exercise we know is huge for managing feelings and so much more effective than really anything else. So you know, having that exercise as a tool that if they are willing to engage with you is a really it’s preventative. It’s something that helps in the moment, as well as being preventative. So, I love that idea. I think it’s great. You just don’t want to dwell in like screaming and yelling or you know, that kind of thing.
Brenda  19:34
Right, right. And it’s I think it’s confusing also from an emotional standpoint because you know, the brothers sisters, they love their brothers sister, but they also hate what they’re doing. And it’s like you’re afraid for them and their safety, but at the same time, you just, they will not even live in your house. So it’s not that there’s even just one emotion. It’s like this stew of opposing emotions.
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  20:02
that’s so beautiful what you just said, though I think you put words to the stew, right? You, you sort of named all the different pieces in a way that made it clear, like totally understandable that people would have this horse to have feelings. And I think kids don’t necessarily have an awareness that that’s okay. It’s, you know, it feels like, if I feel angry with my sibling, then maybe that means that I’m wishing ill of him. And maybe, you know, they have some magical thinking kind of components that make them feel guilty. Like if something bad happens, maybe it’s because I was angry with him, or, you know, I didn’t want him. I said, I hate you. And I, you know, I don’t want you to live, why do you have to live here, and then he left for a week, and we were all worried, you know, that kind of magical thinking can really be destructive. So I love how you sort of put words to all of those different feelings. And I think parents can do this a lot. Really makes sense that you feel angry, but I also know you, you love him. And that must feel really hard to hold those two feelings at the same time. You know, that? Just saying that out loud, I think is a real gift. Because you’re letting the kid now like, Oh, it’s, it’s okay. And it’s normal that I have mixed feelings about this.
Brenda  21:35
Yeah. And and as a parent, you have those feelings, too. Sometimes. I mean, I remember days when my son thinking, Man, I wish you were 18 so you didn’t have to live here, you know, because it was so destructive. And so just worse, toxic in the house. So I have a couple of questions that came from the moms in The Stream Community. And I would love to ask you and I’ll also ask Krissy about these just to get your thoughts and your input on how you might approach these. 
One of them is where you’ve got a you know, like, this is a 13, 14 year old who is witnessing a lot of these kind of violent outbursts. A lot of trauma. Mom and dad have actually been injured, the police have had to be called. And then you know, he’ll run away. And then it’s like, What do I do? Do I try to you know, keep my mom and dad happy and and be the peacekeeper? There’s just like we said this that big mix. And, you know, some of this stuff is pretty scary. Like maybe he does have some, you know, mental health issues? And should we talk about that? Or to what degree do we kind of open up and talk about this with the 14 year old who is so confused. So kind of traumatized on their own? Because I think there’s also worry like, is this child going to go start using substances to relieve the the anxiety that’s caused around this?
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  23:08
Yeah, I mean, it’s tricky. At each age, I think, you know, they always use this term, like developmentally appropriate. You want to describe things in a way for the age? And what the heck does that mean? Like, it’s so hard to figure that out. I mean, even as a psychologist, I often think like, okay, what’s appropriate for a 10 year old again, like I don’t, I don’t have to get out my own books and remind myself like, this is this is tough to know. But I think as parents, we have a sense of whether our kid is kind of ready to hear a larger explanation, or the events around them have sort of exceeded our ability to keep on that developmentally appropriate track, like, the police are here. So guess what we’re gonna describe what is happening here, you know, 
Brenda  24:05
we are now having that conversation
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  24:06
we’re having this conversation because we have been forced, our hand has been forced to go there. But I do think that there’s two things – on the one hand, you want to sort of tell a kid only as much as they’re really going to understand, you know, you don’t want to sort of over explain, and on the other hand, you do want to sort of elicit whatever feelings they might have and attend to all of them. So if they have questions, you want to hear what they are, if they have feelings, you want to hear what they are, if they have a particular idea about why their sibling is like this, or if they’re this contagion fear, you know, they might have it to not just the parents, they might feel like oh my god. This what it means to turn 17 or 18. Like, I’m going to lose my mind like that I’m going to start doing crazy things and hurt mom and dad like they’re doing, you know, so they may have these ideas too, that they’re harboring inside and not sharing. And so again, we come back to the open door of communication, you know, how can we ask open ended questions and make room for difficult conversations and have like, just an environment that is conducive to that to?
Brenda  25:34
Wow, I had never thought about that, that they might be thinking, am I going to end up like this? Or, you know, I’ve heard addiction runs in families. Right. Does this mean I, you know, there could be a question. 
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  25:47
I always say, if we, you know, if you had diabetes in the family, like everybody would have had this conversation, when you’re five, you know, like everybody would, it would be in and out of awareness, you know, on so on. So is having complications from diabetes, we know that this is, this runs in our family. So we don’t have tons of sweets around, we really, you know, make efforts to have a balanced diet, we go to the doctor regularly, that’s what we have to do in our family. And because it’s substance use, it’s scary. People want to cross their fingers and like squint their eyes and hope for the best, you know, that it doesn’t hit the next generation or, and sometimes it does skip the generation and yay, you know, we’re happy for our good fortune, we can’t really predict sometimes. 
Dr. Nicole Kosanke  26:42
But I do think that it’s important for kids to have some awareness, you know, with substance use problems, we have so much shame and regret and painful feelings that are looped into them that we can’t talk about it as sort of objectively as we might diabetes, but the the risk factor is there. So I think it’s helpful for kids to know that, yes, there is an increased risk that, you know, we we because we have this in our family, this is something that you’re at a higher risk of. So just having some sort of non judgmental, not nonchalant, exactly, but sort of a matter of fact, discussion of like, this is an increased risk for us in our family. And so these are the things we can do that we can manage our feelings in these different kinds of ways, we can make a concerted effort to make sure that we’re noticing our feelings, and we’re attending to them. Because if you manage your feelings, well, then you’re going to be less likely to feel like I need to turn to something risky to do that. And that’s when substance use really spirals out. So the things that you can do around managing feelings well, are vast, actually. And you can do all those things without saying so we’re taking a walk every morning, because we’re trying to prevent you having a problem with marijuana like your brother does, you know, you can sort of enact these healthy coping and basically teaching your kids to manage feelings well, without having it need to be a lecture or sort of tied in to these other things, the other awarenesses that you have as a, as an adult

Brenda  28:40
It could open a door to just helping helping them cope better as part of the overall like experience that’s going on in the house. Yeah, so that makes a lot of sense. Another one of the questions was, as a mom who is practicing CRAFT doing her best to practice craft, which means she’s not blowing up and screaming and yelling and accusing. But she’s really trying to find things that she can positively reinforce, and, you know, not sort of water the weeds as we say. So it looks to her family and to her other kids like, Okay, I know my brother’s doing these crazy things, but why is my mom praising? You know, because mom’s using a strategy that is, you know, is a good one, but from the outside looking in, it might look a little suspect. Yeah. And so yeah, you know, how how do you use some of these behaviors that can seem a little kind of flying under the radar because you’re really trying to manage the emotions and all of that and not have other family members think you’re not doing anything?

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  29:51
I think it depends on the kid, of course and the age but the general feeling I have about this is that you, although you may be setting limits in a way that isn’t, like loud and dramatic, which is what we would encourage, right, we would in CRAFT, we would encourage following through with consequences or natural consequences and ways that weren’t punitive. But where it’s something matter of fact, you may be doing all of that in a way that doesn’t sort of make a lot of waves and call a lot of attention. But it’s happening. And you can, even if you’re not setting a limit, in a particular moment, you can say, well, that tone of voice really isn’t okay with me. But I understand that you’ve had a really hard day. And if you want to talk to me about that, in a calmer way, we can do that. 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  30:52
So you can sort of model for the other kids effectively, that you aren’t actually okay with what’s happening. And you’re trying to redirect and open doors of communication with their sibling with them in a way that feels safe and healthy, but you’re not engaging in big dramatic arguments, because that’s not healthy. So that’s the first thing. But the other thing is that it really is important to be doing positive reinforcement with everybody, right? So you don’t want it to appear. But you also don’t want it to actually be the case that only the kid using substances is getting praised for good behavior, right. So if that person is, you know, comes home on time, and he might have done something awful earlier in the day or earlier in the week, but he comes home on time, and that’s something that you’re trying to notice and praise and positively reinforce, then hopefully, that’s something that you are also positively reinforcing. And the other kids, you know, you might do it in a different way. Or you might be more nuanced about it, you know, you might sit them down late at night, when you’re saying goodnight to them and say, Hey, you know, I don’t always say it, but like, it means a lot to me that you show up on time when you say you’re going to and that I can rely on you is a very big deal. And I appreciate that. 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  32:35
That’s positively reinforcing their behavior to which I think is very meaningful, and it makes it more sort of the environment allows for more greater understanding of why mom might be saying nice things about a behavior, right. So that’s the other thing is that if you are saying, thanks for being here on time, our oh, it’s so great to have you at dinner, you know, I appreciate you being here is different than saying, you’re the best kid and I appreciate everything that you’re doing. Right. So the more specific you are, the better for everybody. Because it’s better for the person using substances because you’re directing them to the behavior, you want to see more. But it’s better for the other siblings to because they see well, yeah, it is. I can’t argue with the fact that like everybody appreciates him being on time and like showing up places like that. That is something we’d like to see, you know, the piece that is more problematic is like, Why are you being nice to him at all? Right? That feels hard to stomach when it feels like he’s really hurt our feelings earlier in the day or the week.

Brenda  33:56
 And there’s the confusion of that to say, well, why are you being nice? or Why are you accepting some of these things? And then on the flip side, when you say, you know, tomorrow, he’s going to be transported to wilderness therapy. And that sister blows up at you and says, how could you have him kidnapped and they get mad at you for whatever it is, you know, that that next step is? Because I think that happens as well as like, Yes, I know he’s causing problems, but I still love him. And don’t you dare send him away, don’t you? You know, why aren’t you getting him out of jail? Like a good mom would get my brother out of jail. Don’t let him sit there. So there’s that just kind of twisted? Like I know, a lot of times you just feel like you can’t get it right. Because no matter right, yeah, it looks like it’s the wrong decision.

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  34:51
In you know, DBT they call that radical acceptance. You have to sort of radically accept that. There’s a lot have nuance to these situations and your kids are going to see things from a lot of different angles and actually you know that voice of the sibling that says a good mom would get him out of jail what are you doing why are you leaving him there that voice is actually in mom’s head to you know that voice the reason that it’s so painful to hear is that of course we’ve had that same person we’ve had that thought of like am i am i the worst mom in the world how could i possibly be doing this you know and it’s that the louder that voices in your own head the harder it is to hear from the sibling and so i think that once you sort of acknowledge and radically accept that you yourself have those mixed feelings then hearing it from other people is less toxic and less taboo almost you know like that feels like yeah i totally understand why you would feel that way i have thoughts like that myself like it’s really really hard to leave him there right and the world that we live in has consequences i cannot you know undo all the consequences and in fact like maybe next time he doesn’t do that stuff because he knows that this is the consequence i am not the judge and jury in this town. I’m the mom so you know i have to let other people in the world teach him lessons and that i think is gonna have a bigger impact on him than me telling him not to do something because you know that i’ve told him not to do stuff.

Brenda  36:51
It’s not for lack of trying.

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  36:54
exactly so you know i tried i tried that method and now other people are telling him by putting him in jail or giving him a fine or whatever it is other people are telling him that same message and maybe we’ll get through in a different way. But yeah am i worried about him 100%, of course i’m worried about him there and i understand that you would be worried about him too.

Brenda  37:20
yeah and again good good modeling for that either younger or especially i think for older siblings to to see, oh okay, my mom and dad are gonna actually let me deal with the consequences just like they’re letting my sister deal with the consequences or whatever it is.

Brenda  37:42
Another question that comes up is this idea of manipulation of the siblings whether they’re older or younger in in some examples or like you know he knows my brother knows that i know that he got drunk last weekend and now he’s saying pressuring me don’t tell mom don’t tell dad you know there’s this sort of secrecy that happens and especially if kids are at a close age you know year or two apart in school then they’re hearing things they’re seeing things on social media that mom and dad may not have seen. There could be pressure about money like, dude i know you have 10 bucks give it to me and i’ll pay you back, when you know they’re never gonna pay. Or you know there’s just this kind of level of manipulation that the the one who’s been manipulated doesn’t feel safe to go and tell mom and dad so then it just kind of becomes this big ball of like secrecy and anxiety and pressure and turning you know it’s like us against mom and dad – what are your thoughts around that?

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  38:50
on the one hand you know you want to figure out how to preserve that relationship with sibling bond and having secrets, when it’s of a more healthy nature, is part of that. You  have your own vocabulary with each other you know things about the school and the friends and social media that your parents don’t know and it feels like a special connection and so there’s a lot of that that is really normal and and we don’t need to get in the way of it. But when it becomes abusive or manipulative or punishing truth punishing you know breaking secrets that kind of thing then it’s not healthy and so if parents find out about this you know either by their own observation or the kid does tell them what’s going on there are things you can do to sort of actively prevent the abuse happening. Like the sibling makes their own money or gets their own allowance, and you don’t give them the gas, you hang on to it for them. And when they want to buy something, you buy it for them, you know, they can let you know. So you can sort of protect them from having that consequence. 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  40:16
You know, there’s no perfect solution. But there are certain logistical things that you can work out once you hear it. But again, I feel like the thing I keep coming back to in my own mind is just being available for that other sibling. And if there are, you know, open spaces in the family, and then the different dyadic relationships with mom and the sibling with dad, and the sibling with aunt and the sibling, or with two other siblings with a cousin, whatever it is, if there’s space in those relationships, for downtime for chat, for asking questions, and really pausing to listen, having follow up questions to whatever you hear, you know, making space for things to be revealed, you’re gonna hear about some of this. 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  41:12
Again, I just feel like being being an open door for those feelings and thoughts is the critical piece. And you really need when I say like, leaving space for that I’m sort of being psychological in that, you know, definition, but I also mean, like, literally, there’s space, you know, and this pandemic, you know, people are kind of on top of each other. And there really isn’t a private space sometimes. So, going for a walk every morning, going for a walk every night going, walking, going for a ride in the car, going upstairs to somebody’s room hanging out in their room playing music, so nobody else can hear what’s being discussed, like, literally making space for a conversation to happen, I think, on a regular basis with kids is really, really helpful to start at an early age because as they start wanting more independence, it’s harder to start a new routine. 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  42:21
I think it’s a gift to give yourself as a parent to remember that part of spending time and opening up. private space for that other sibling is actually a gift to your substance using child as well, because you’re letting them know, I you know, you might be flailing out of control, but I’m doing some things to protect our family. And there are places that you can’t ruin. And I’m, I’m doing what I can to erect those fences, and I’m not perfect. And you’re you’re basically showing them though, that you are that you’re, you’re making efforts to, to protect and grow this other child, which on some level is I think, very reassuring to the substance using child and, you know, may not be in the moment, something that they’re happy about, but down the road in an aggregate aggregate I think that it is really, yeah.

Brenda  43:28
Wow. So, so helpful. I know that you probably have a lot of good resources, is there anything in particular that you would recommend either like a website, besides obviously, the all of the CMC and CRAFT material, anything that you would recommend to a parent who is wanting to sort of deal with this more? 

Dr. Nicole Kosanke  43:51
yeah, thanks for asking that because there is this book that I want people to know about called The Normal One, Life With a Difficult or Damaged Sibling, it’s by Jean Safer. So the the a lot of the book is about having a child with like a serious developmental disability or a physical ailment, or very serious seizure disorder, or those kinds of extreme situations that have such a huge impact on the whole family. But I feel like the themes are very relevant for the families that we’re talking about. And I think it’s just grounding to hear, you know, so kind of themes that siblings can end up feeling and experiencing and can kind of alert parents to what might be going on in their kids heads over time and sort of in the moment, so I would recommend that book.

Brenda  44:54
Wonderful. So The Normal One, and I will put that up for anybody who listening i’ll put that in the show notes. Thank you so much this is really going to be beneficial to a lot of parents who are you know worried to begin with and then sort of have an added layer of worry for those other kiddos in the house so really really appreciate you being here with us and sharing your thoughts.

Brenda  45:18
Well now we get to hear from Krissy Pozatek who is, as many of you know, the author of The Parallel Process and several other books that are incredibly helpful for parents and i’m really tapping into her and Dr. Kosanke because they’ve got such good relationship expertise with families specifically around substance use issues and so Krissy i’m just really glad to have you here to get your perspective and i’d love to hear how you think about this and how you might approach it given all the work that you do with families

Krissy Pozatek  45:58
I think there’s two ways that i look at it and hopefully this is helpful to your listeners -the first way i look at it is n umber one we need to view it through the lens of mental health right or a medical issue even. Many of these young people with addictions have dual diagnosis number one right so they have another diagnosis you know underneath and then they have addictions and so we need to look at it through a medical lens on one level and the reason i think it’s important to frame it that way because it’s interesting sometimes. I have clients who actually do have medical issues. 

Krissy Pozatek  46:40
I worked with a family recently where the mom her son had epilepsy since he you know he was 18 and he had epilepsy and since he was like three her whole life she’d been on alert right because any seizure could be life threatening and so any anxiety or trigger she you know she this is a mom was just on alert her whole life and didn’t feel like she could really leave him or was he safe or would someone know the right protocol if you have a seizure. And with that I noticed that the whole family was very compassionate like this young man had siblings brothers who were very compassionate and toward his epilepsy and his seizures and knew the protocols and so there was this real like empathy support, and i’m sure frustration and annoyance at times. 

Krissy Pozatek  47:30
It seemed like the tone was overall empathic and supportive and so we take that lens and you know you can even relate it to being on the spectrum you know and i see some parents are like oh I know it’s so annoying for my younger sibling to have this you know autistic sibling and we have to remember wow that’s a diagnosis right we need to have compassion right what if it were cancer would we be annoyed at someone with cancer so on one level i think it’s important to really explain to siblings that this is a medical issue just like if your sibling had cancer or epilepsy or something else. That does require that,i mean that’s just what you know it’s just what we get right we can’t choose our family you know we can’t choose what we get right we can’t choose our parents or siblings or this is in our family system and so some of it a lot of it is about acceptance and and hopefully some compassion. 

Krissy Pozatek  48:24
So I think it is important to really frame it that way, but i think the second way i want to look at this is that with substances right and addictions is there’s a lot of really damaging behaviors right so someone with cancer isn’t necessarily harming the home so do you see what i’m saying there’s like there’s there’s one level which is really understanding that there’s an issue and to have compassion but then there’s another level which is seeing that this is has a lot of destructive behaviors that really impact the family and i think we need to address both

Brenda  48:59
yeah and that’s the confusing part i think is you know like you said with epilepsy the symptoms that you see are not necessarily like the damaging you know very hurtful so a lot of times you know when kids are in this they’re saying things that are very mean so the symptoms i guess i would call them look so different. And so i’m glad that you said that because that damaging behavior it can feel like it’s not part of the medical diagnosis but i think if you look at it and say actually these two are connected it’s just so unlike any other like if you had cancer cancer wouldn’t you might be in a bad mood you know and you may have days when you’re really down but you probably aren’t you know pulling a knife on your mom or running away or some of these things that can look very disconnected – am i making sense?

Krissy Pozatek  49:54
yeah, and even even like a seizure could be certainly traumatic to a sibling to witnesses you know your brother or sister have a seizure it isn’t necessarily harming you right or with intent or like you’re talking about stealing or taking their money. You know one of the things i remember when i was working in wilderness we used to say if if someone is truly an addict that what do they need to do? They need to lie, cheat, steal to keep their addiction, that’s just what they have to do. 

Krissy Pozatek  50:26
Because if if they want to keep their addiction they have to lie cheat steal they have to have this sort of dual life right that’s separate from the family because the family doesn’t typically know all the ins and outs of what the child’s doing. So we have to again almost look at the lie cheat steal or and violence you know as maybe part of this equation because they’re under the influence of a substance that’s changing them. You know they’re not under a sober mind but that being said you know one of the other metaphors I really like is would you rather your child go to a classroom where the teacher is in charge and there’s rules in order would you rather your child go to a classroom where the kids are in charge and it’s more chaotic? 

Krissy Pozatek  51:17
10 out of 10 parents tell me the teacher is in charge with rules in order, and why is that? Because that is a safe classroom, we want kids to feel safe so when the adult is in charge they’re creating safety and routine and predictability and order every day, so the kids come and they can relax and learn. I would really use that metaphor because it’s so easy to think about authority and other environments – a teacher has authority or a pilot has authority, but sometimes we forget parental authority parents almost feel like their classroom be where the kids are in charge and it’s chaos

that i would say describes most of the families that i work with

Krissy Pozatek  52:00
right and so we want our kids to go where the teachers in charge with rules in order but guess what our homes look like? B, and so this is where whether you’re just dealing with your child who’s using or you’re dealing with the siblings who are getting impacted they it both applies that parents need to be in their parental authority and they need to uphold the you know rules and boundaries of the home to create safety.

Krissy Pozatek  52:30
And i frequently think about consequences so consequences are not punitive they’re not like you’re bad or you’re a bad person or you messed up because as we know these young people are under the influence of substances, but what we do know is if we hold kids accountable sort of like you know the other example i like to give us a speeding ticket we’re not saying you’re bad driver or you’re disappointing us you know hopefully the police person’s not saying that hopefully they’re saying you’re going too fast here’s your accountability or here’s your ticket because what does that do it creates safety on the roads. If there were no speed limits it may not feel totally safe to go out on the roads.

Krissy Pozatek  53:12
and so we have signs up and then you know police enforcing those speeds you know maybe not always but at least they’re doing it enough that people regulate their driving and so we need to think about it that way, that the parents job is to create safety in the home. So we’re not giving a consequence like we’re not trying to change one driver, what you’re trying to do is uphold the safety on the road so in a way it gets you out of the power struggle because a lot of parents with children with addictions are in power struggles.

Krissy Pozatek  53:49
Because you’re trying to change your child, but if we say you know what, you can use, you can do that but these are the boundaries of this house if you want to live here or whatever you’re if you’re looking at treatment. Or because I think that if our goal is to uphold, that’s the parents job, to create a safe home environment it’s not okay for one person to make the home unsafe for somebody else. Again a student in a classroom or someone driving recklessly on the roads, that’s disrupting somebody else and so it is hard to of course be in this you know the way i’m explaining it, I’m sure sounds simple compared to the application in reality, but i lay that out to just state that the goal isn’t to punish the kids that are you know acting out the goal is to say we’re here to uphold safety for everybody and it will be the same if another kid in the home right you know did something traumatic or violent or disruptive or disrespectful

Brenda  54:55
I think that’s an interesting way that you can have a conversation with those siblings. Just to explain, first of all, the hopefully ability to have some compassion, which I know is very difficult when you’re a sibling and you’re watching your brother, your sister do these things, but then also to say, and take ownership as the parents say it is my responsibility to create a safe space for you, sibling, and here are the things that I’m doing to do that, because in so being such an expert in boundaries, and all of that, what what are some things that you think would be important for mom and dad to put into place? If there is, you know, this behavior going on so that the, the other kids in the home can have that sense of safety and protection?

Krissy Pozatek  55:51
Again, I think it all goes back to parental authority. So if you are implementing CRAFT or some process with your child struggling with addictions, you’re doing that in your authority, right? So maybe you’re going through steps, and I know that a lot of families want to, you know, before they go to say, rehab or inpatient residential treatment, they may want to exhaust all the options at home first, right? In terms of outpatient or therapists or whatever, what have you. And so I think that parents need to be ready to to send their child away. 

Krissy Pozatek  56:30
And so they may have to go through all these steps. But if they’re, say, going through those steps in their authority, well, we’re going to try therapy first. Yeah. And then we’re going to try outpatient. And we’re going to try make sure they’re going to meetings and, and obviously, we’re drug testing. And so I think what you want to communicate to the siblings is that their brother or sister is struggling with mental health issues and addictions. Addictions involve lying, cheating, stealing, because they’re on because guess what, when you’re using the drug, what do you what are you thinking about how to get it again? And that’s most of the time illegal. 

Krissy Pozatek  57:08
So this is what’s going through their mind. And so it’s explaining, you know, the grip of addiction, and what’s going on, what the child that’s struggling with it. So it’s explaining that you’re going through step by step process, but that you are in control, if you will, you’re in control because you’re going through the steps, I think it’s important to make sure they have their own support number one, because it’s up to them. Number two, it’s putting up pretty strong boundaries if that child is manipulating the siblings, maybe they parent holds all the money in the house. Maybe the parent holds all the tech in the house again, it depends on the ages of the other kids, right? 

Krissy Pozatek  57:51
I mean, I know families that just have a door that locks and they just lock all the money in there they lock the knives in there maybe they lock the tech in there like the free floating iPad in the house, right are the old Kindle that you know, we everything needs to be secure to create safety. So again, we we need to think about the parents job is safety. And that’s being in their authority. So then that will make the other children feel safe. Can they can they make the problem go away? No, but they can they set up systems to create more safety, obviously therapy and therapeutic support. Maybe they have a friend close friend that they know they can stay over on if there’s a bad night or something. Because this is a temporary process until we realize this is not workable in the home. 

Brenda  58:43
Wow, so many good things in there. I just want to rewind for a second because you mentioned so many really good things one being to explain to the siblings about the lie, cheat, steal. I had never heard that. So I think that’s really a great thing. To explain to them that this is to be expected instead of it being like every single time. Oh my gosh, he did this. Oh my gosh, you know, like just to know that is going to be part of our lives while we work through this. I think I could see that going a long way I wish I would have known now if I think about it. So I think that’s really a great thing to explain to them. 

Brenda  59:21
And then also I love the idea of being proactive. Like if you know that your your other kids are being pressured to give them money. Maybe they don’t have money, maybe you hold the money and then if you know if they need hey I earn $20 from babysitting, I’m going to give it to you mom or baby you put it on a debit card or whatever it is. But I think that’s really smart to be proactive about knowing what’s going on. So that means there has to be open communication right? The the other kids in the house are going to have to be able to say hey mom or dad this is going on and not feel scared to tell you there. are being manipulated or if they’re being asked for money, so that you can then solve for that. 

Brenda  1:00:05
So like you said, setting up systems, and then also the the productivity of, you know, maybe when when things are going this way, you go to grandma and grandpa’s house for the night, or you go to your friend’s house and setting that up. So I think that’s so smart, because you can just feel so at the whim of the mood and the temperament and the current state of mind of this one child, it’s like the entire house revolves around their current disposition. And that’s so unfair to everybody, not just the siblings, but to the parents. So one of the other scenarios that we have commonly is the manipulative siblings, so they are really really pressuring their younger older brother sister to do things for them to lie for them. So maybe we can just spend a minute talking about that, and kind of what that’s doing to that other sibling,

Krissy Pozatek  1:01:06
That’s a trauma for the younger child, where they’re set up for codependency where they tolerate abuse, you know, and that’s interesting, I worked with another family and it wasn’t addictions, but it was more narcissism, sort of narcissism slash being on the spectrum, that the older brother and he was very manipulative to his younger sister, and he would play games with her, but change the rules. And she always lost, he would just basically, abuse you kind of emotionally abused her every day, tell her she wasn’t good enough. And she’s sort of codependent and all her relationships. And yet, guess what, she kept going back for more, because she got attention from him. And then she, you know, if I just try this, he’ll validate me well, but then he never did. 

Krissy Pozatek  1:01:47
So it’s setting up these sort of emotionally abusive relationships that can absolutely play out with younger siblings or whatever age sibling, really, if one is the more dominant and more sort of narcissistic, manipulative child, and obviously, it’s scary to set a boundary with that person. But I think that it’s so important to set boundaries and to say no, and no, thank you, I don’t want to play the game. And, and again, maybe they need to go to the grandma’s house too, or they need to have those separation. And but I think that if we’re not teaching these other siblings skills, then they’re just developing that in what I call their relationship template. So they’re going to go out into the world and recreate that, because it’s a trauma, and so they’re gonna go out and get in a relationship, or someone kind of bullies them.

Brenda  1:02:35
I hadn’t thought about that. That’s, yeah, that’s important.

Krissy Pozatek  1:02:39
So the more they can learn to say no, that they have worth, that they have power, that they have 1,000% choice, that they’re not subject to the manipulation of the other. And that may involve a parent stepping in to do protection on some levels, but also empowering the child to have their boundaries. And maybe that’s good for their own growth, right? Maybe this is important skill development for that other child.

Brenda  1:03:06
That is really, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that they’re going to carry with them what they experienced in the home, and then apply that potentially to their other relationships. So that’s really crucial. It’s so hard I know, as a parent to You’re so overwhelmed with what you’re dealing with with that one child.

Krissy Pozatek  1:03:26
Absolutely. And I and obviously, I say this with compassion, like, it’s not like, parents are going to do this perfectly, or they’re, you know, they are going across boundaries at times, right, because they’re at a low place. So they maybe they hit a low place, and their, their younger child comforts them. And of course, that’s a setup for codependency because it’s saying the child becomes responsible for caretaking the parent, rather than the parent, ultimately, our responsibilities to take care of our children, not the children to take care of the parents. 

Krissy Pozatek  1:03:59
But, you know, I’m sure there are times where the parent hits a low in front of the other child, right? And so, you know, I guess I would just say, forgive yourself, you know, you know, recognize this isn’t easy. It’s probably beyond your own skill set at the moment, and forgive yourself and then try to repair with you know, that that child that may be getting involved, or that sibling sorry, that’s getting involved, and to say, you know, what, it’s my job to keep you safe. It’s my job to be there for your emotions, not for you to care-take my emotions. Sometimes a lot of the work I do with parents, I say, what we’re trying to do is for the parent to become the parent so the kids can become the kids. And so again, forgive yourself, have compassion for yourself. You have a very challenging situation on your hands. But I think it’s just I say this not for parents to beat themselves up, but I say it for parents to say how can I step back into my authority, right? It’s almost like, you know, when you’ve got addictions like this, it’s almost like, it’s not just being in your authority. It’s like being a warrior. Going into battle a little bit. I’msure it is not easy every day with all the stuff that explodes.

Brenda  1:05:19
It is a battle. And it’s funny, because those are the, that’s the exact verbiage that so many parents use is well, going back into battle today. And one thing when you when you were talking about the, the child who’s sort of becoming the parent, where I see that happening a lot is with single moms. And so it’s a single mom, with two or three kids, one of them is struggling with addiction, causing all kinds of havoc in the house. And that mom is so exhausted, because she doesn’t have a, you know, spouse or partner to help. And at the end of the day, it’s she’s just like, I just have absolutely nothing left. 

Brenda  1:06:05
And so I think, you know, you’ve got to still be the parent to those other kids, it just goes to show how you’ve got to bring in other resources to help yourself, you know, you’ve got to bring in some support, coaching, or a therapist or whatever for your own self care, so that you can have the energy to then parent those other kids, because otherwise, what I hear consistently is just, I just have nothing left. And so then my other kids do comfort me, and they’re you know, they’re the pleasers, and they’re just doing whatever they can. For me, which is nice, but probably not super healthy.

Krissy Pozatek  1:06:45
Absolutely. You know, sometimes I say like, you know, the goal of the family is more hierarchical. I know, that’s probably a negative word in our culture right now. But, but if you think about it, I mean, the parents are above the child in the hierarchy. But the reason they’re above that is because they have fully developed brains, right? Your prefrontal cortex is mature, they’re just like, the teacher hierarchically is above the children. And so you’re absolutely right, when it’s a single parent, what I see is, it’s more of a side by side, it’s like, the parent and the child are just, you know, it’s almost like a little democracy or something where it’s all there’s not there, that hierarchy has been lost. And I can feel good on one level, like, you know, oh, we’re so close, or it’s the two of us against the world or whatever, or having however many children there are. But yes, it is exposing those younger children into the adult world, which reduced the safety, we want the when the parents or the parents, it creates safety, and then kids can relax. And so I think it is important to seek out other supports for yourself and for your children, like other mentors that may be could potentially play in a parental role, or grandparents or aunts, or uncles or so. So it’s not all on you.

Brenda  1:08:11
Right? Because it’s true that it can feel like everybody starts taking their side in the family. And I know some, you know, some kids take, they go against the parent, like, I don’t want you to send my brother or my sister away to wilderness therapy. Like, you’re mean, I can’t believe you would do that to them. And so everybody sort of gets in their camp. And then it’s so stressful because you know, you’ve got this camp against that camp and one sibling is for the other, you know, the kid with the addiction and one sibling is not and the divide that creates is, is so stressful.

Krissy Pozatek  1:08:50
Lots of family system dynamics play out, and it’s not easy. The one last thought I would have is that sometimes parents go to almost the other extreme. So let’s just say the other extreme, where they’re trying to make everything so normal for the child, the other siblings, like they’re like, oh, he hates how disruptive you know, his brother is and and so there’s almost like a catering. Do you see what I’m saying? There’s almost protect the child. So he’s in a bubble and almost like, yeah, isn’t even impacting him,

Brenda  1:09:25
This isn’t really happening over here, like don’t look this way.

Krissy Pozatek  1:09:29
Yes, we want their lives to be as normal as possible. So there’s nothing wrong with that, you know, feeling, but I also think it is part of their lives, right, it is impacting their lives. And so, I think, if we’re efforting so much to bubble them up right away from it, that can be non reality also, you know, so it’s just finding that balance. I know there’s no like perfect answer to all of this, but it’s just finding that balance of creating safety in the home, creating boundaries. But also recognizing that this is impacting the family, we, you know, we are going to talk about it. 

Brenda  1:10:05
I can totally see that, you so desperately just want those other kids to not have to deal with, with all the ugliness that’s going on that you could try to just pretend like it wasn’t happening to them. And that’s not really, you know, that’s just not reality if their brother had cancer, or leukemia, or like, that’s what we got. That’s what we have to deal with. And it’s great to have hindsight, because coming out the other end, you can be like, oh, and look how strong you are because of that. And, you know, you learn to be compassionate. And there’s all those things that you can say once you’re on the other side, that are true, that don’t necessarily work if you’re saying them in the heat of the moment, but there can be great learnings that come out of going through that experience. And there’s painful stuff too, for sure. But I know I’ve seen my younger son have an incredible amount of compassion for people now because he went through that and it’s great to see you know, it’s one of those silver linings.

Brenda  1:11:06
Thank you so much, Krissy. And thank you to Dr. Kosanke for joining me for this really, really important topic. It is one that we don’t talk about enough. So I really appreciate you being here and for giving us all of your expertise and insights.

Krissy Pozatek  1:11:23
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for holding all these important discussions.

Brenda  1:11:31
Thank you so much for listening. If you would like to go to the show notes, you can always find those at Brenda Zane comm forward slash podcast. Each episode is listed there with full transcript, all of the resources that we mentioned, as well as a place to leave comments if you would like to do that. You might also want to download a free ebook I wrote called hindsight. Three things I wish I knew when my son was addicted to drugs. It’s full of the information I wish I would have known when my son was struggling with his addiction. You can grab that at Brenda Zane comm forward slash hindsight. Thanks again for listening and I will meet you right back here next week.
Thanks so much for listening, also, if you want to get on my email list, so you can get the email every Wednesday that I send out just as a way to support you and what you’re going through you can go to and just drop your email there and I’ll send you a short kind of one-pager email on Wednesdays, and I would love to be able to do that for you.
You might also want to download my free ebook called “HINDSIGHT, Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted To Drugs.” It is packed with information that I truly wish I had known back in the darker years with my son. And so I share it now in case it might be helpful to you in your journey. You can get that at, and I will put a link to both of these resources in the show notes as well. 

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