It’s hard to deal with the news that your loved one is incarcerated. You need time to work through it and it can be a long hard road ahead. You will have emotions to work through and challenges to overcome. It’s a tough reality to face. You may feel helpless and full of shame at times. It’s perfectly normal to go through emotions such as these. But, as an adult, you can often process it better than a child, especially the child of the incarcerated individual.
A child needs support during this time. They need someone who is going to be there for them. Someone who doesn’t lie to them, saying “dad’s just taking a long vacation” or something of that nature… You don’t necessarily have to go into details, but lying about the parent being incarcerated is typically a bad idea. You want children to feel like they can trust you enough to open up to you about how they’re feeling.
You want to encourage them to feel like they can come to you with things. Let them come to you when they’re ready to speak. You can ask some questions, but you don’t want it to come off like you’re interrogating them about their day or their feelings, because this could actually shut them down.
Instead, focus on showing that you care by asking simple questions and letting them know you’re happy to see them when they come home from an outing or school, etc.
Don’t be quick to judge kids or throw in the towel when they mess up. They may act out as they try to deal with these emotions. Encouraging creative outlets, such as journaling or coloring, may help them work through what’s going on inside. It may also be helpful to speak with someone outside the family, someone who has experience working with kids.
Make sure that how you’re behaving in front of the kids is representing how you would prefer they behave as well. You can show them it’s OK to cry and express emotions in a healthy way. This can show them a better way to handle their feelings – not bottling them up or acting out.
Time is important too. You need to be available to kids, especially in this situation. They need to feel cared about, even if they don’t say it or act like they don’t want it. They need to know they’re wanted and loved. Not only make time for them, but also compliment and encourage them. This can help them feel better about themselves and also may help them feel more comfortable talking with you.
It’s a hard road ahead, but there is hope. Instead of focusing what you can’t do, start looking for what you can do and how to move forward with positivity.
[Monalisa Johnson is a licensed and ordained minister of the gospel and a certified life coach as well as a mother and entrepreneur. In no way is anything that she writes, speaks or shares considered medical advice or clinical therapy. Consider all that you receive to be life coaching and guidance.]