HOW TO TELL KIDS THEIR PARENT IS INCARCERATED
And Other Hard Topics
What if when you went home tonight, the police came to your door and said your husband was under arrest? What if your husband went to prison?
What would you tell your kids?
When I graduated college, I worked closely with the incarcerated—my first jobs was as a detachment assistant for the police. I wanted to help kids and moms find peace when they are in distress. In my experience then and now as a mother, I think it is important that we be honest with our kids and tell them the exact reason without hurting them. We can help them understand in a way that kids will understand.
We can help our kids during this difficult time if we remember the following:
START WITH TRUST
The Foundation of Every Good Relationship
Your child trusts you to be honest with her. If there is an absence in the family due to incarceration, it is better to be up front with your child than to “protect them” from the truth. Your child will have her own process to go through as she adjusts to this new way of life. She needs you to be constant and open with her during this time.
Trust does not mean blindly believing what your teenager tells you. Trust means not giving up on your child, no matter what she does. It means never walking away from the relationship in frustration, because you trust that she needs you and that you will find a way to work things out.
There is a common adage that says, “respect must be earned.” But how can a child earn respect if they do not understand what it is? Respect is not an innate characteristic of a small child. As a parent, you play the most important role in teaching children what respect means.
Respect your kids. Don't ask too many questions. Instead of asking,
- “How was school today?”
- “Was the science test hard?”
- “What did you have for lunch?”
Try, “Welcome home. I'm so glad to see you!” Let your children open up to you.
TEACH BY EXAMPLE
Your children are learning from your example. They will learn how to respond to confrontation, stress, and fear by how you respond.
If you tell your child it's disrespectful to interrupt when an adult is speaking, but then interrupt when your child is talking, what example are giving? Your words about being respectful don't make a difference if you aren't teaching by example.
PRIORITIZE TIME WITH YOUR CHILD
As a single parent, you will feel pressured to be both father and mother, parent and breadwinner. Your child needs to spend time with you, but if you are stretched thin between responsibilities and obligations, you can't give your child quality time. Gather around you a strong support group upon whom you can rely.
In relationships, without quantity, there's no quality. You can't expect a good relationship with your daughter if you spend all your time at work and she spends all her time with her friends. So as hard as it is with the pressures of job and daily life, if we want a better relationship with our kids, we have to free up the time to make that happen.
BUILD THEM UP
So many things can affect a child's self-esteem. The way you treat your child should not tear them down. Encouraging words can influence how their day goes despite how their friends and others treat them. Children need to know that you have their back and that they have a safe refuge from the world. Pray with and for them before sending your kids out the door with a smile. Children who feel good about themselves are more likely to give respect to others.
ENCOURAGE, ENCOURAGE, ENCOURAGE
Think of your child as a plant who is given to you to nurture and grow. Encourage them to keep going. Tell them they are doing a great job and that you are proud of them. When kids learn to do things for themselves and feel proud of what they can do, they feel capable. With an incarcerated parent, a child may feel like they are losing out on things. They may blame themselves and act out. But if we show them we are proud of them, it makes a world of difference.
This article was originally written by Terri Grothe for her blog Terri-Grothe.com. It is reprinted here with permission.
ABOUT TERRI GROTHE
Terri is a wife and a mom, a family and marriage blogger who loves laughter, tea and date nights with her husband. By day, she's an appointment coordinator. By night, you can find her at her computer writing.
To read more from Terri, visit her website, Terri-Grothe.com.