As a part of their Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration program, Sesame Street 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.
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.
5 Do’s and Don’ts to Help Kids Deal With Incarcerated Parents
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 feeling.
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 would be much better to talk with the child about the realistic conclusions that could occur.
- “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.”
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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