- Associated Press - Saturday, November 21, 2020

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - For a child, understanding addiction and alcoholism can be difficult. Even scary.

To help children cope with living in a home facing these problems, Central Nebraska Council on Alcoholism and Addictions offers its Kids Power program.

While drug and alcohol use has increased during the pandemic, it has not caused an increase in the number of kids needing the program, said Janie Mick, CNCAA program facilitator.

“I don’t think we necessarily see more kids, just because of it ramping up,” she told The Grand Island Independent. “In itself, with substances, during COVID, we’re not seeing that so much, yet. But, the word is out that it is used more during COVID.”

She added, “We’ll probably see that come in more next year.”

Kids Power is for ages 7 to 11, and is held for two hours every week for eight weeks.

Referrals are drawn from social services agencies and families in treatment, Mick said.

“It’s making their home dysfunctional and it’s a concern. They need to know how to handle that,” she said. “This is just teaching them how to handle it.”

A key element is helping kids understand what is happening in their homes. This is done using the seven Cs.

“They didn’t cause it. They can’t control it. They can’t cure it. But they can take care of themselves by communicating their feelings, making healthy choices and celebrating themselves,” Mick said.

On the first night, they talk about how they’re not alone, said Sherri Klentz, CNCAA program facilitator.

“That’s the thing they really grab a hold of,” she said. “They don’t realize that there are other families who have situations similar to theirs.”

Kids in the program are encouraged to share their feelings, Mick said.

“It’s OK to be angry, but don’t hurt others, don’t hurt property and don’t hurt yourself, and do talk about it to a trusted adult,” she said. “People get their anger confused with a lot of other feelings, like disappointment or being upset or hurt.”

On the second night, the kids draw a picture showing how addiction has affected their family, and a picture of how they would like it to be if there wasn’t addiction in their family.

Important, too, is prevention and teaching kids how to say no, Mick said.

“We talk about, what are drugs? What is alcohol? What do you see it as? And we figure out what they know coming into it,” she said. “Then we talk about what it can do to our bodies and our brain and we talk about what are the healthy things we can do instead.”

Another important lesson is that their parents love them.

“Substance is the bad person in this,” Mick said. “There aren’t bad people. There’s just bad choices. Substance wants to hook us, trap us and we just get stuck.”

The superheroes in this battle are those who seek treatment and recovery, Klentz said.

With understanding, kids are better able to choose healthier, less destructive paths.

“So many of them only see what is around them and don’t understand how to be different,” Mick said. “Going to school, they feel like they’re different from other kids, but when they come here they find out there are kids just like them. They have a way to escape, and a way to push forward in their life.”

Due to the pandemic, the program was reduced from 10 kids to six.

Even though it is meant to bring kids together, they must sit spaced apart and wear masks per safety guidelines.

An exercise of lifting a bag filled with rocks, symbolizing emotions and the weight of having to carry them around, is not being done now.

It remains important, though, for kids to share and communicate their feelings.

“Sometimes they’re not really sure what the emotion is, they just know it’s an emotion that isn’t comfortable, or that they didn’t like,” Klentz said.

For more information about the free program, visit the Central Nebraska Council on Alcoholism and Addiction website https://cncaa.net.

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