When caregivers provide their child with dependable and reliable information about his or her parent’s incarceration, they lay the foundation for developing resilience. The disclosure fosters a trusting relationship between the caregiver and child, creating a comfortable environment for the child to ask difficult questions while grieving his or her loss and adjusting to a new reality.
Supportive adults can help children develop resilience using the KidsMates' C.A.R.E.S. Approach:
Create a safe environment for the child to speak freely.
Acknowledge and validate the child's concerns.
Reassure the child that they are not alone.
Encourage active play and skill-building.
Share honest and age-appropriate information with the child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' official parenting website, healthychildren.org, explains how KidsMates' C.A.R.E.S. approach can be used to support children of incarcerated parents here:
When caregivers provide their child with dependable and reliable information about his or her parent’s incarceration, they lay the foundation for that child to develop resilience. The disclosure fosters a trusting relationship between the caregiver and child and creates a comfortable environment for the child to ask difficult questions while grieving his or her loss and adjusting to a new reality.
Sesame Street provides free and thoughtful resources for caregivers of children (up to 6 years old) to help them cope with the reality of having an incarcerated parent.
Sesame Street Offers Free Resources for Young Childen of Incarcerated Parents sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/incarceration
Supportive Adults Are the Key to Helping Children Of Incarcerated Parents Develop Resilience
Supportive adults are the key to helping children develop resilience in the face of parental incarceration. They should create a safe space for children and avoid asking or researching details about the child’s incarcerated parent.
When trusted, supportive adults become crucial anchors who can empower children to:
Manage the shame and stigma associated with parental incarceration;
Navigate difficult conversations and social situations;
Regulate their emotions and impulses;
and, Develop the skills necessary to adapt to the instability.
While family members often provide initial anchors of support, other nurturing relationships can include teachers, neighbors, coaches, or other caring adults - including the incarcerated parent.
Most children want to maintain a relationship with their incarcerated parent. A recent (2020) study at Columbia University demonstrated that children have enduring affection and admiration even during a parent's incarceration. Despite numerous barriers to communication, staying connected can ease the pain of separation.
Methods of communication:
Mail: Mail is the easiest way for children to develop a reciprocal relationship with their incarcerated parent. Written mail arrives slowly, but allows children to share their thoughts and accomplishments - through writing, art, schoolwork, and photos. Email allows children to communicate more efficiently but is limited to written text. New apps offer children a free and convenient way to send a postcard or letter to their incarcerated family members straight from their device.
Phone: Calls are tricky to coordinate because, in most cases, outgoing calls must be initiated by the incarcerated parent. However, it can be especially meaningful for children to hear their incarcerated parent’s voice on a special occasion - birthday, graduation, or even a big exam! Newer technologies, such as video conferencing, also are being utilized in some facilities.
Visits: While technically the most difficult to arrange, and often in stressful environments, visits are the only opportunity children have to see their incarcerated parent in person. A nurturing relationship with an incarcerated parent can enable children to develop the building blocks required to develop resilience.
Prison Visiting Room. A KidsMates Graphic.