As you probably already know, children are like sponges: they soak up and absorb whatever environment they're thrown into, even if that environment is toxic. It's no different if they have an alcoholic parent at home. This alcoholism has a severe impact on children, not just as toddlers and preschoolers, but for the rest of their lives.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) affects six percent of the children of alcoholic women, according to the National Association of Children of Alcoholics. It occurs when a mother drinks alcohol throughout her pregnancy, resulting in physical deformities in babies, as well as mental retardation and problems with behavior. Children with FAS also have a hard time concentrating and paying attention.
Problems with Intimacy
Parental alcoholism can make small children hesitant or nervous about forming close relationships with others. This is especially true if the alcoholic parent behaves erratically, because that behavior makes it difficult for the child to trust the parent. If this is the norm, then the child may go through life always keeping people at a distance. After all, if you can't trust your own mom or dad, you can't trust anyone, right?
Children of alcoholics have a different experience of family life than their peers. These children tend to feel a weaker sense of family bonding, and often perceive other family members as distant or unwilling to communicate. They also witness higher levels of conflict within their families.
Children of alcoholics sometimes feel ashamed. Whether it's communicated directly or indirectly to the child, the message to keep the alcoholism a secret is received loud and clear. The child then feels that this is a problem that no one can know about, so feelings of shame aren't far behind.
If the alcoholic parent engages in dangerous or self-destructive behavior when intoxicated, this can send the child into a flurry of worry about the parent's physical well-being. This anxiety might get even stronger when the child is away from the parent, such as at school or a grandparent's house.
A child with an alcoholic parent can sometimes feel intensely angry at the parent for drinking so much. The child may also feel angry at the non-alcoholic parent for not preventing the other parent from drinking so much. To the child, the sober parent is complicit in the alcoholism.
A child is more likely to suffer from depression if there is an alcoholic at home, even though this affliction is rare in children. This depression can result in excessive crying, bed wetting, a fear of going to school or nightmares.
Impaired Reasoning Skills
Children of alcoholics have a harder time with abstract reasoning than their peers. These children usually require concrete and literal directions to function normally. This impaired reasoning also makes it more difficult for them to engage in typical problem-solving strategies.
Impaired School Performance
Preschoolers with alcoholic parents show "poorer language and reasoning skills" than other children without alcoholic parents, according to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. These children of alcoholics also tend to have a harder time expressing themselves verbally.
Difficulties in School
Having an alcoholic parent has negative effects on children in school beyond just academic problems. These children find it difficult to see themselves as successful, even if they excel academically. Rather, they tend to see themselves as failures. They also might have problems bonding with teachers and other students in school.