5 Do’s and Don’ts to Help Kids Deal With Incarcerated Parents


Sad FixedYou might
have seen on the news recently that as a part of their Little
Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration program, Sesame Street has
introduced a new Muppet. Named Alex, this
young boy has blue hair, a green nose, and a grey hoodie. But what
makes Alex stand out from the other Muppets is that his father is
in prison.

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According to the University
of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development
, at least 1.7
million children had a parent in state or federal prison as of
2007. Some studies show that 1 out of 28 U.S. children have a
parent who’s incarcerated.

What can you say to a child who is struggling with having a
parent behind bars? Looking at Group’s Emergency Response Handbook, we’ve
come up with five do’s and don’ts to help you if one of your kids
is facing this difficult issue.


Children's Ministry Local Training

  1. Do Use Scripture. As in every difficult
    situation, the Bible offers answers and comfort. Help kids find
    reassurance with Nahum 1:7, hope with Jeremiah 31:13, and the
    knowledge that God is always with them using Romans 8:31-39. 
  2. Don’t Force Help. “It is possible that the
    family may initially resent offers of help because they may not
    want to admit there is a problem or that they can’t handle all of
    the responsibilities alone. Be patient, and do not try to force
    services on the family, but simply offer assistance.” Before you
    offer help, remember that kids may feel embarrassed, scared, and
    vulnerable. “Trust God to help the family accept what your ministry
    team has to offer.” 
  3. Do Help Kids Process Emotions. “Children may
    deal with a vast array of emotions, including shame from what
    caused the family member’s incarceration, fear for what might
    happen next, or grief from the loss of someone who was usually
    around.” Let the child know that it’s okay to feel the way they are
  4. Don’t Say This:
    • “I’ll bet this is hard for you.”
      Instead of suggesting how a child feels, ask him or her to
      tell you about it.
    • “Everything will be all right.”
      Instead of making false promises, it wouldbe much better to
      talk with the child about the realistic conclusions thatcould
    • “See what happens to people who break the law?”
      Instead, talk with the child about grace and forgiveness,
      reminding him or her how important it is to have faith in God, who
      is forgiving and understands our mistakes. 
  5. Do Encourage Communication. When stressful
    situations happen, kids’ active imaginations can increase their
    fear and parents may forget what problems their children are
    facing. “Encourage the family to talk about the facts of the
    situation and help the child separate fantasy from reality. Parents
    should keep these explanations age-appropriate.”
Interns in Children's Ministry: A Complete Plan


Remember to check out Group’s Emergency Response Handbook for more
great tips on handling this and many other difficult situations.
Have you ministered to a child who has a parent in jail? How did
you provide support? What tips would you give? Let us know in the
comment section below.

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About Author

David Jennings

David has served kids around the world for the majority of his life. From Texas to Romania, he has followed where God has led him. Most recently, he served for six years as a children's director in the great state of Alabama before moving to Colorado to work for Group as an associate editor.

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