Parental incarceration can be one of the hardest topics to talk about with children. We asked current foster, adoptive and kinship parents how they handle these tough conversations. Here’s what they shared:
“Depending on the age Sesame Street website has great resources for young ones. https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/.”
“It depends on age and stage of the child, of course, but if they’re on the younger end, I talk about unsafe vs. safe choices, or speak openly about breaking the law. I never say ‘good’ choice or ‘bad’ choice – it’s too easy for kids to internalize that a bad choice equals a bad person. I validate conflicting feelings, and if they’re being quiet about it I start a lot of sentences with ‘sometimes…’ or ‘I wonder…’ For example: ‘Sometimes I am glad to have a break from someone, and also I am sad and miss them.’ Or ‘I wonder what you think about doing visits in the new location.’
If it’s an older child, or a child who knows why (sometimes in detail) the incarceration occurred, I really follow their lead, in an open and non-judgmental way. I talk about our many feelings as train tracks – we can have many at the same time and they’re all just as valid/true just like parents can be capable of both safe and unsafe choices, complex feelings and actions.”
“Just be truthful in a way that they can understand. We used ‘Mom made some bad choices and got in trouble and she has to go away for a while.’ Make sure they understand that it’s not that they don’t want to be with them.”
“I told mine it was a time out for adults. When they started asking more about why he was there I told them that he took something that wasn’t his, and he drove his car really fast and didn’t listen to the cops.”
Check out our book review of Demetri Makes A Memory Quilt, a children’s book discussing parental incarceration.
Want to be part of the next discussion? Join one of our groups.