PARENTAL INCARCERATION - SURVIVAL SKILLS
Resilience - Surviving & Thriving
Children who develop resilience in the face of early adversity are able to buffer toxic stress and its subsequent developmental disruption. Resilient children are able to survive and thrive.
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.
Children with an incarcerated parent face destabilizing stresses that threaten almost every aspect of their well-being. 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.
Despite numerous barriers to communication, most children want to maintain a relationship with their incarcerated parent. While challenges abound, staying connected can ease the pain of separation.
Methods of communication:
Mail: Written and electronic mail (email) are the easiest ways 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.
Phone: Calls are tricky to coordinate because, in most cases, outgoing calls can be initiated only by the incarcerated parent and minutes are limited. 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 hostile environments, visits are the only opportunity children have to see their incarcerated parent in person. When children have a nurturing relationship with their incarcerated parent, that relationship can enable the child to develop the building blocks required for resilience.