Children are sensitive beings, and situations like this can leave a lasting impact on them if not handled responsibly. It is recommended to seek professional advice from a children’s therapist or pediatric counselor regarding the best strategies for such conversations. In the meantime, you may continue reading for some supportive advice on helping a child of jailed parent, and perhaps it can give you the hope you need to stay strong for the ones that you love.
Young Children of Jailed Parents
If the child is still an infant or toddler, it may not be necessary to explain the absence of a jailed parent since they will likely not have any memory of the experience. Then when the child is older, the jailed parent can choose to divulge that information to their children if they feel it necessary. If a toddler asks, there’s no need to create fairy-tale stories or fantasies. This may confuse them when the parent returns. Instead, tell them they are away at work, on a trip, or something similarly easy to explain but also nothing that will worry the toddler.
Older Children and Teens
However, older children will require a different approach. They are smarter, so they are bound to ask more questions. For this reason, it is best to just be as honest as possible, but only to a point that is safe for them. You don’t have to be completely honest, just honest enough for the child to feel comfortable with the truth. A child of a jailed parent is likely to feel a sense of loss; so it is important to acknowledge that sense of loss and to support them during their time of need. It is important to also remember that children grieve in different ways. By simply paying attention and being involved in their lives, you can pick up on their way of grieving and
accommodate their personal struggles.
Important Things To Do:
Routinely remind children that their parents love them very much and are thinking about them every day. Also remind them that it is not their fault in anyway and that their parents will return home in the future. If the child asks when their parent will be home, it is perfectly acceptable to tell them you don’t know; but then follow up by telling them that what you DO know is that their parents love them very much.
If possible, encourage and scheduled contact with the jailed parent. This includes in-person visitation, scheduled video conferences, and phone calls. Help them write letters and send cards as well. By staying in touch with their parents, children feel less anxious and scared about their absence. It reminds them that their mom or dad is safe, and it lets them know they are still loved and remembered.
It is very important to never speak negatively about the jailed parent in the presence of their child. This can have a lasting effect on the child’s mental health, and influence their feelings toward their parent. Children have a special connection with parents, and having a parent in jail is already an emotional time for them. You would never want to add to their stress by speaking in a derogatory manner about their parent.
If you are feeling alone, turn to local support groups for companionship and help with coping. It is also a great idea to seek mental health counseling for the child, if they’re old enough, so that the child can learn healthy coping skills.
Continue to encourage the child to take part in play dates, school activities, sports, and hobbies. Keeping the child occupied in a positive way helps them cope as well.
The most important thing you can do for a child of a jailed parent is simply be there for them and listen when they need someone to talk to. This lets them feel like they have a safe place to fall, emotionally and physically.
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