Parental relationships significantly shape a child’s perception of the world. It’s not enough to say that parents set the example for their children. A parent’s role in a child’s life will considerably influence a child’s psychological development both internally, and how they present themselves to the external world.
In fact, many studies show that children raised in single-parent families have an elevated risk for becoming involved in crime. Not all children follow in their parents’ footsteps, but having a parent in prison is certainly detrimental to a child’s development.
In this article, we’re going to share ways on how a child can have a healthy relationship with a parent who is in prison.
Help the child connect with their parent
In some scenarios, a child may have been too young or not born yet to remember a parent that went to prison. Perhaps the child has not had any contact with the parent in prison, but has begun asking questions on the whereabouts of the incarcerated parent.
In these types of situations, there are several considerations to make. First you want to be sure that communication with the incarcerated parent would be healthy for the child. There could be concern that the parent would be a negative influence on the child, if they aren’t remorseful for their crimes.
You may also not even be sure where the child’s parent is being incarcerated. In that situation, publicly available inmate rosters like PrisonRoster.com might help you, if you can provide basic information on the prisoner and identify them by mugshots.
Encourage healthy communication
Any kind of long-distance relationship with a parent is hard on a child, but it’s made even more complicated when a parent is in prison. The only methods of communication are writing letters, short phone calls, and visitations to the prison facility.
Writing letters will be very important, and you can encourage the child to share their recent accomplishments and be expressive in their letters. For example, a child who gets picked for the school soccer team should surely share this news with their parent in prison, and the parent in prison should respond with support and praise.
Similarly, a child who is coping unhealthily with the situation may develop behavioural problems in school and at home. The parent in prison can write letters that are sympathetic to the child’s feelings, but also give insight into how actions have consequences.
So even if a parent is in prison, it does not mean they cannot still offer guidance and have a parental relationship with the child, through expressive and meaningful letters.
As children face social situations with their peer, such as bullying and discrimination, a parent in prison can be in a unique position to offer advice on finding commonalities with other people, making friends in stressful places, and peaceful conflict resolving.
The C.A.R.E.S approach offers these helpful suggestions to encourage healthy communication between a child and an incarcerated parent:
- Create a safe environment for the child to talk 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.
Encourage routine and stability
Children are easily impacted by traumatic situations, but are also resilient and readily adjust to routine. For a sole parent or primary caregiver, it will be beneficial to the child’s development to encourage routine and skill building.
As mentioned above, writing letters to a parent in prison can be a regular activity, and would encourage a child’s expressive writing abilities. However, the child can also be immersed in routine activities to give their life a more structured environment. Whether it’s academic, cultural, or athletic activities, a child who actively participates in healthy extracurricular activities has better chances of staying out of trouble.
Be careful not to overwhelm the child with too many activities, or introduce too many rapid changes to their schedule. A key part of establishing routine is that it’s predictable and comfortable for the child to follow.
A child who participates in team sports will develop healthy interpersonal skills, while a child engaged in artistic activities such as painting or playing an instrument can help them to express their feelings in imaginative ways.
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Building a meaningful, positive connection between your children and their incarcerated parent may not be easy but it is possible. And your efforts could encourage a supportive relationship that benefits everyone in the family.
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