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
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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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
- 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.
- 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."
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.