Children typically desire contact with their parents, even if a parent is incarcerated, so learn the ropes to keep the connection going:
Keep it Simple
Depending on the age of the child, you can explain without going into too much detail, why the parent is in jail.
Preschool to elementary kids – Let them know that a judge thinks the parent did something wrong and broke a law. The parent has to stay in jail until the judge can talk to him or her and decide if a law was broken or not.
Don’t say the parent broke a rule. This will set the child up to fear incarceration for breaking rules at home. Let them know that laws are rules for adults and that children do not get arrested or get put in jail for any reason.
If the parent has been sentenced, let the child know when the parent will be home and that you will make sure he or she gets to see the parent regularly until their release.
Middle School to High School Kids – This age group knows about crime and jail, but they shouldn’t be burdened with the details of the case. Just let them know that their parent has been accused of committing a crime. A judge/jury will decide if it is true. They will probably push for more details, but they are still children at heart and do not need to be involved with the particulars. Let them know you will keep them informed about the things they need to know, such as court dates and sentencing. Older children need to know whether they should bring a school ID to show the staff before the visit. Check with the jail for any such requirements.
When They’re Ready To Visit
Before leaving for the visit, explain to the children that they must behave and stay by your side while at the jail. Don’t use threats, as this will make them fear authority. Calmly let them know that if they cannot behave you will remove them from the jail and they will go home.
Go over basic rules, such as staying near you, not being loud, and using their indoor voices.
Final thoughts: Jail visits can be hard on kids. Younger children get bored. Older children might feel angry with the incarcerated parent and may not wish to “play nice” at visits. Try to work with a family therapist or local support group that can help children work through their feelings about having a parent in jail, or start one in your area.