How to Explain Incarceration to Young Kids - Milwaukee Divorce and Criminal Defense Lawyers

When your family circle is broken because a parent has to go to jail or to prison, addressing the issue with your children is tricky. You want to protect their sense of security and shield them from the stresses of uncertainty, but does doing so mean keeping them from the truth?

You’re Not Alone

Nearly 2 million children in the U.S. had a parent in prison in 2007, according to the University of Madison-Wisconsin’s Center for Child and Family Well-Being. While you may be tempted to make up a rosier, more pleasant scenario to ease the little ones’ concerns, fabricated stories don’t always add up and children have a funny way of seeing right through adults.

Generally speaking, telling the truth is your best bet. But being honest with your kids doesn’t mean overwhelming them with everything at once.

Taking Baby Steps to Explain Incarceration to Little Ones

Experts suggest telling your children what they need to know at the moment, and dole it out in amounts that they can handle at levels they can understand. Always consider their age and level of development.

Explain that their loved one broke the law and had to go away for a while, but that he or she is not a bad person. Stress that their parent still loves them, and this separation is not going to change that. Even though the truth may not feel good in the moment, children are amazingly resilient.

Remember to maintain an open dialogue. Kids will have many questions as they ponder what’s going on, so be ready for future discussions.

Building Trust Through Honesty

Honesty with your children throughout this process also builds their trust. The best way to help mend your broken household is to ensure that the kids can trust you and what you say. It’s important that you keep your word and back up your promises with actions. This helps the kids maintain a sense of stability and security, which is exactly what they need right now.   

Finally, prepare your kids for what to say to others if asked about their new circumstances, and coach them on how to deal with teasing. Children are little people who live in the real world, and with the proper guidance, they can get through this tough time in their lives – all they need is your help.