Children think in very literal terms. Rules are to be obeyed and if you don’t obey them you are being bad. When a parent goes to jail, the child not only has to accept the fact that the parent made a really bad choice, but they also have to comprehend that the parent has been removed from the child’s daily life.
The age of the children help guide the decisions about visitation.
Babies: Little infants and babies really don’t get much out of visiting a parent in jail. If you bring them at this age, it is more for the parent’s benefit
Be sure to bring another adult to help with the baby so you can also have some one-on-one time during the visit.
Toddlers are often confused as to why the parents can’t come home. Some parents choose not to bring children at this age to visit but instead have the toddler stay connected through phone calls. This way they hear their parent’s voice but cannot see him looking stressed in his institutional surroundings.
School-aged children are better able to handle knowing the parent is in jail and cannot come home. In addition, this is an age when they might suffer emotionally if they are unable to visit the parent.
Before taking them to the jail, explain the sights and sounds they will experience so they won’t be alarmed and can remain calm during the visit.
Middle School: This is a hard age because that parental guidance is very important as the children enters puberty and begins exploring who they are. Children should be encouraged to visit but not forced to do so if it causes them emotional suffering.
High school: At this point it should be left up to the teenager if he wants to visit his parent or not. Encourage phone calls if visitation is sporadic and be sure to remind the parent that teens get busy with their lives and don’t mean it personally if they don’t visit.
Related: The Teen Brain Under Construction
Final thought: There is no getting around the fact that having an incarcerated parent will be very disruptive in a child’s life. Therefore, it is especially important to nurture these children at every opportunity.