Tips for Writing and Talking with Children

The Children of Prisoners Library has several articles on visiting with mom or dad in prison, talking with children, and answering their questions. Although children need contact with the absent parent for the relationship to continue to develop, any communication must fit the child’s needs, not the parent’s needs. There are many benefits to writing letters to a child. Letters are a way to let your child know what you value about him and what is so special about her. Writing a letter is a way to connect. It is not a way to offer your side of your “story.” The child may read the letters many, many times. Think carefully about what you want your child to remember.

Children also need help coming to terms with what happened. Keeping the focus on your child and not on yourself helps children understand that you are thinking about them and not about yourself. Writing a letter to a 3- year-old is a lot different from writing to a 16-year-old. Even though your children were a certain age the last time you saw them, think about the ages they are now. That’s hard to do, but your children will like your recognizing they are growing up.  Let your children know how proud you are of them and that you have hopes for their future. This is not about setting the record straight or going into lots of details. Share a few memories that mean a lot to you personally.

The law librarian may be able to help you with writing notes. If you are a friend, relative, or caregiver, visit The Children of Incarcerated Parents library from Rutgers University’s National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, and print and mail the articles to the incarcerated parent.

Parents or caregivers can help the child by talking with them about the letters. Children respond best when they hear the truth. Telling the truth does not mean going into all the details or expressing your option about what happened. For instance, if the child wants to know the whereabouts of the absent parent, do not make misleading comments to them and say he or she is in the military, working far away, or in school. Children learn the truth when parents don’t come home from the military, or work or school. If you mislead the child, the child will not trust you. The child may feel hurt, angry, and resentful when the truth comes out. Children need to know who they can count on in good times and sad times.

If you are worried about staying connected with your children, read more about your parenting time rights at Rutgers Children of Incarcerated Parents Library.