For children whose parental figure is incarcerated, communication is essential. Without consistent, positive communication, it will be difficult for children to adjust to a world without them. While speaking opportunities are minimal, both parties should take the time to bond.
1. Try to Locate Them First
Sometimes family members get lost in the prison system, or they become difficult to locate for any number of reasons. The fact that you took the time out of your day to find your parents will mean the world to them, and you’ll already start your relationship off on the right foot.
If you’re in California, you can search for the parent across all Correctional Facilities in CA. The Alleghany Sheriff’s website can cover other states if you aren’t sure of their whereabouts.
2. Start With Mail Communication
Once you have their location, send them a letter to facilitate contact. It’s less intimate, and both parent and child can express themselves without feelings of fear or shame.
Young children may draw pictures of how they’re feeling, which can clear the way for a closer relationship later on.
When children receive letters from their incarcerated parents, they’re able to reread them and think back on their growing relationship, which can be more tangible than the phone.
3. Send Gifts and Photos
Children don’t have to send big, extravagant gifts and shouldn’t be pressured to do so. In jail or prison, inmates definitely need a bit of money to purchase necessities, like higher-quality food, shoes, toiletries, and clothing. In a sense, money could be an incarcerated parent’s life raft.
If children or their parents feel uncomfortable sending money, they can send gifts or photos. Inmates love receiving photos of their families because it makes them feel included and valued.
4. Warm Up to Phone Communication
Phone communication can be difficult at first. Both parent and child will feel pressured to come with topics on the fly, and they may feel they’ve come off as pushy or too insensitive.
What counts is that the parent listens to the child; the subject isn’t as important as trying.
While children like their privacy, they do enjoy talking about sports, school, and music. Kids should feel encouraged to speak about the outside world and ask their parents questions.
5. Ask Questions About Their Situation
Both adults and young children will want to ask questions about their parents’ situation. Questions like “why are you there?” “are you okay?” and “when are you coming home?” are bound to come up. The incarcerated parent should do their best to be honest.
Both child and parent should be transparent with how they’re feeling. This way, both parties will feel that they can trust in one another and confide in each other should something happen.
6. Play Phone/Mail Games
There are endless things parents and children can do “together-apart.” For example, phone games like riddles, age-appropriate jokes, and “I spy” games can help create a more powerful bond between parent and child. Make sure everyone gets a turn playing the game.
The incarcerated parent shouldn’t take it personally if their child doesn’t want to play. It doesn’t mean they don’t love them; it could just mean they want to talk about something else.
7. See Them in Person
Many prisons and jails have games and toys available for visitors. A deck of cards is a common sight in visiting rooms, but if they aren’t available, both parent and child can make them together. Prisons may offer stationary for tic-tac-toe, hang-man, or math games.
Depending on the age of the child, it can be difficult for them to sustain a conversation for the length of the visit. However, if parents play with their children, they’ll associate them with fun.