Incarcerated Parents: How do I Tell the Kids Their Parent is in Jail?

As stressful as it is to have your partner go to jail, you are fortunate in that you know where he is, why he is there and what it means to the family. Children, however, often get their information by overhearing adult conversations and then drawing their own conclusions. This can be terrifying for them. Here are some suggestions for communicating about this subject:

Children with incarcerated Parents video – families speak about the experience.

3 -5 – year-olds: Children at this age are too young to understand the concept of jail or crime and should be allowed to remain innocent. Tell them that daddy had to go somewhere but will be back as soon as he can. If they are going to visit him, let them know they will be able to go see him until he can come home. Some parents say the parent had to go away for work.

6-12-years-olds: At this age, children will hear adults talking and may even hear where dad is from friends at school. It is better to hear it from you first. Compare it to being on time out. Let them know he is in jail because a judge needs to figure out if daddy broke a law. They don’t need to know the details at this age, only that he is in jail and a judge will decide when he can come home.

Even in prison, she’s still my mom.  Deborah’s Story video

13-18-years-olds: The truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth at this age. They can easily find out on their own through the Internet or by calling the courts or jail. Tell them what he is charged with and keep them updated after court appearances. Refrain from turning to them as confidants or mini-adults during this trying time. They are still children and should not feel responsible for your stress levels.

Final thoughts: The most important thing to do while telling the children is to assure them that they will continue being taken care of. Children need the security of knowing their needs will be met while dad is gone and that they will be able to write to him and talk to him on the phone until he comes home. Consider a therapist for a child who struggles with the situation.

Your small children might be interested in:

Sesame Street: Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration video for children

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About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
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.