In 2013, Sesame Street went somewhere it never had — the PBS children’s television show introduced Alex, its first muppet with a dad who was in jail.
Now, Sesame Street’s website offers incarceration toolkits to help children going through this tough transition at home, while Mom or Dad may be behind bars. But Sesame Street isn’t the only program offering such resources.
The Strategies for Youth website offers a wealth of age-appropriate conversations at the time of their parents’ arrest. While the conversation tips are geared toward law enforcement, conversation pieces can also help parents, family members and loved ones who are dealing with children whose parents are incarcerated.
For example, a child between the ages of 1 and 4 may not only fear the loss of their parent, but that of their parent’s protection.
“No one is going to hurt you, or your Mommy/Daddy,” is a good way to remind them that no matter what is going on, they and their parent are safe.
As they get older, telling them, “you did nothing wrong,” is also helpful. “I know you love your Mom/Dad. This isn’t your fault.”
Acknowledging you “know this is a tough situation,” is also recommended through the teenage years. For youths into their teenage years, keep them apprised of what the next steps are in their parent’s case as it moves through the system.
According to the Prisoners’ Families Helpline, it is widely acknowledged that children handle honesty about where their parent has gone better than secrecy. Not telling them their parent has been arrested or is in jail gives them the indication of a sudden disappearance — and leaves room for doubt, worry and imagining situations that are much worse than reality.
Regarding when to break the news may depend on if bail is an option, if the arrest was sudden or if custodial changes may come into play. Regardless, whoever is telling the child the news about their parent’s arrest, should tell the child when there is plenty of time to answer questions and offer comfort. Despite this, the child may not have a ton of questions, at least not right away, as they may still need time to process the news about their parent’s incarceration.
Keep the news about a parent’s incarceration simple and age-appropriate. In addition to telling the child this is not their fault, and their parent loves them very much, assure them that being in jail does not mean their parent is a bad person.
Tell the child what contact they can still have with their mom or dad, whether this includes letters, calls or even visits. Most importantly, remind the child that you’re there to support and listen to them, and, if you’re a close relative/friend, that you love them.
Despite telling the child the arrest of their parent was not their fault, they may still feel otherwise. If the arrest causes them to move to a new home, or even new school, they’re experiencing even more anxiety and stress. If the child witnessed the arrest, additional trauma may come into play. The child’s behavior may change, as they experience anything from depression to hyperactivity, shyness or anger.
Even if you have expressed your openness, they may feel like they can’t talk about their parent’s incarceration at home, and possibly not at school or to other relatives. Some of this will depend on who in their family and close-knit circle knows about the arrest. If it’s a baby or toddler you’re talking to, you can still use simple words about seeing their parent again, without the weight of the conversation that may be present talking to older kids.
It may help the child to attend a jail visit with their parent. However, if the child does not want to go, don’t force them. You or another loved one should go on a visit to see the child’s parent in jail first. Ahead of the visit, tell the child about security measures in place, people in uniforms, any searches that take place at the jail, and most importantly, how long or short the visit will last.
At A-Affordable Bail Bonds, our primary focus is reuniting you with your family and loved ones. While conversations about a parent’s time in jail may be necessary, we want that stretch of time to remain as short as possible. Whether you’re incarcerated or your loved one needs assistance with a bail bond, we’re here to help get your family back together. Contact us today.