Kids With Parents In Jail Series: Sesame Streets's Little Children, Big Challenges
Leave it to Sesame Street to recognize that kids with parents in jail need support, understanding, and a way to communicate their feelings.The Sesame Workshop is known for educating millions of the world's children, but they are also leaders in helping children deal with a variety of traumas they experience in life. Divorce, Military deployment and Incarcerated Parents are only three of the programs they offer to parents and caregivers. Each program is designed to help children ages 3 to 8 years old talk about their feelings and get the support they need in times of crisis. Their Incarceration Initiative provides free bi-lingual resources for both the parents/caregivers and the child.
While most information available for children with a parent(s) in jail, centers on statistics and studies, this program actually reinforces the specific needs of a child--any child--who feels abandoned. First, and most important, is to make the child feel safe. When a parent goes to jail, even if one parent is still at home, the child's world is turned upside down. The program emphasizes the need to reassure the child by "surrounding her with reliable people and daily activities," and letting the child know exactly who is going to be there for them at all times.
It also shows how important honesty is to a child. Children are very observant. They know when someone is not being honest. They need to know where Mommy or Daddy went, and why. Without that information, children will blame themselves for the separation. They wonder: What did I do wrong? Being honest may be difficult for the caregiver, but it is the only way to let the child know it is not his/her fault.
If you are caring for a young child whose parent(s) are in jail, go to the Sesame Street website and access their Little Children, Big Challenges workshop for kids with a parent in jail. It will help you open conversations with your child. It even covers how to prepare the child for visiting the parent(s) at jail.
Next week, I will talk about a fantastic program founded in 1976 and still going strong.