Talking to kids about a parent or loved one going to prison can be a challenging and emotional experience. One of the most difficult decisions you may face during this process is how and what to tell your kids. It’s tough, but kids cope better when you’re honest with them. We recommend being open and honest with your kids and showing them it’s okay to ask questions and talk about how they feel. Each child is different and you know your child best, so it’s important to tailor your approach to their needs and emotions. But here are some tips about how to handle that conversation and some questions you may face.

Be Honest. It’s important to be honest and tell your child what’s happening. Using age appropriate language you can explain that you made a mistake and are dealing with the consequences of that mistake. You don’t want to lie to your children and tell them you’re away at school or on vacation. If you lie, there’s a real possibility they will figure out the truth and the trust in you will be shaken.

Reassure them. Let your child know they are not to blame for the situation and that they are still loved and cared for.

Answer their questions. Be prepared to answer any question they may have about prison, such as what it’s like, what you’ll eat, where you’ll sleep, if they’ll be able to talk to you, and how long you’ll be away.

Provide support. Let them know that they can talk to you about their feelings and that you are there to support them. Consider connecting with a therapist, counselor, or support group if they need additional help.

Focus on the future. Encourage your child to stay positive and focus on the future. Talk about ways to stay connected to each other while you’re away and discuss plans for when you come home.

Some questions you might expect: 

Why are you going to prison?

What will happen to me?

Is it my fault?

Will I go to prison too?

Can I talk to you?

When will you come home?

Videos for Kids:

Sesame Street has a great set of videos talking about incarceration, including some resources for parents in talking to children about incarceration. Start here.