Parents in Jail: Getting a Preschool-aged Child Ready to Visit

Preschool-aged children are very attached to their parents. If one of them is suddenly arrested and incarcerated it can cause lots of anxiety. Allowing the child to visit the parent can help alleviate those fears but it is important to explain what’s coming with age-appropriate discussions.

Talk it over immediately

Waiting too long to explain to a child about where his or her parent has gone does more harm than good. A child this age has an active imagination and all kinds of scary scenarios can run through the mind. As soon as the parent is arrested (if there won’t be an immediate bail-out) tell the child the parent will be gone for a while.

Don’t lie

Children who have one parent taken to jail or prison come to depend heavily on the remaining parent. If you start lying to them, it can create insecurities. Answer their questions honestly, but keep it simple. Stating that the judge thinks their parent broke the law is fine. You don’t need to discuss the specific law or details.

Don’t overload their brains

Short and sweet is all this age can really handle. Let them know that their parent cannot come home for a while, but that you will be taking them to visit. (Check with the jai or prison to be sure children are allowed to visit the facility before making this promise).

Explain the rules

Tell them before leaving for the visit that they are expected to behave. A little bribery goes a long way at this age. The promise of an ice-cream cone on the way home if the visit goes well can help curtail boredom whining or angry melt-downs while there.

Final thoughts: Taking a child to visit an incarcerated parent helps the child stay connected and can help alleviate their fear that the parent won’t come back. The parent also benefits because he or she still feels important in the child’s life. Make it a family bonding time that happens each week.

Related: How do I tell the kids?

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.