Sesame Street has produced a short but important video about children of incarcerated parents in hopes of helping them understand they are not alone and that their feelings are valid.
Talking with children of all ages is challenging. But, talking to little ones about their feelings or behavior when daddy or mommy is in jail or prison requires sensitivity and a good listening ear. The truth is that people do break the law and speaking to kids openly and honestly about it helps them cope.
Kids wear a cloak of embarrassment and shame for their parents’ crime. It doesn’t matter their age because all children believe it is their fault and they feel they have done something wrong or that they could have prevented it. When children are struggling with the absence of their parent they feel very lost and confused.
Years ago I walked and talked with a young teenager whose father was in prison for a drug charge a thousand miles away. He never saw him after he was incarcerated and only rarely did he hear from his father. As we walked I held his heart in my hands and for the first time realized how serious this entrapment is for a child of a convict. I am always reminded of this young innocent boy when I speak to families about jail and prison time and kids.
Countless studies suggest that these children will repeat the patterns of their incarcerated parent if there is no psychological intervention. Although this young man did not commit a crime, his brother did.
The Sesame Street video comes with controversy. But, in criminal defense we see too many parents with questions about jail visits, phone calls, letters and ultimately long prison sentences. Families are always encouraged to seek family therapy and kids play or talk therapy so there is no repeat behavior because of the “brand” left in their lives.
Philip M. Smith is a Drug Defense Attorney in Denver Colorado. He has been in criminal justice for over three decades as a private attorney, prosecutor and judge. He can be reached at 303-333-8900.