The children of problem gamblers often receive less attention and nurturing at home as a result of the amount of time the parents spend gambling. This can lead to feelings of abandonment, anger or depression and the children may blame themselves for problems in the home. This can result in the child withdrawing or acting out.
Children who grow up in a household with a problem gambler are also at higher risk of developing the problem themselves later on. Having the love and support of a caring adult will improve their chances of growing up healthy and problem-free.
Children often get confused about their feelings for a parent who has a gambling problem. That’s why it’s important that they understand that gambling is only one part of their parent’s overall behavior, and that it’s okay to love someone even though certain things they do are upsetting.1
To help avoid the above problems, children should be told about their parent’s problem in an age-appropriate way. The key points of the conversations should include:1
- A parent/loved one is struggling with a gambling problem, but they still love their family2
- It is not their fault that there is a problem, and they are not responsible for fixing it1
- There is a problem, but adults are taking care of it1
- They can feel better by talking about their feelings1
- Treatment for their parent is available and works1
- If the child is old enough, discuss upcoming lifestyle changes; however, reinforce the message that it is not the child’s responsibility to worry about the family’s finances1
Children need to feel safe and secure. This is accomplished, in part, by establishing a sense of structure and consistency in their lives through regular routines and activities. Parents can help by spending more time with their children and making sure that they have people in their lives who they can feel “safe” talking to – even when those people are not the parents themselves.