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Left Behind: Coping with Having an Incarcerated Parent

Children of Incarcerated Parents: How to Parent a Safe and Successful Child

Children of incarcerated parents face unique challenges that are difficult to imagine. In many cases, a parent's incarceration may complicate their ability to parent a child. When a parent is incarcerated, the primary caregiver role must be filled by someone else. This can cause devastating consequences for the child, who is deprived of a loving, stable presence in their lives.

Fortunately, there are ways to raise children while maintaining a strong relationship with one’s biological family members behind bars. Here are some things you can do as a parent to raise your child while keeping your relationship with your biological family members intact.

Stay in touch

Maintaining a connection with your loved ones who are incarcerated is crucial. Children may struggle to understand why their parent is not present in their lives, and it’s important to explain the situation to them in an age-appropriate manner.

This can help them feel more secure and less confused.

One way to maintain a connection with your loved ones is through regular phone calls, emails, or letters. These forms of communication can go a long way in keeping the relationship strong. If possible, try to visit your loved one in person. It can be a difficult and emotional experience, but it’s important for your child to see that their parent is still a part of their life.

It’s also important to keep your loved ones updated on your child’s life. Share pictures and stories with them, so they can feel involved in their grandchild or niece/nephew’s life. This can help to maintain a sense of family, even when physical distance separates you.

Set limits

It can be tempting to spoil a child who is missing a parent, but it’s important to set limits and boundaries.

Children need structure and routine to thrive, and setting limits can help to provide them with a sense of security and stability.

One way to set limits is by establishing a consistent schedule. This can include regular mealtimes, bedtime routines, and designated times for homework or play. It’s also important to set rules and consequences for misbehavior. Consistency is key, and it can help to prevent misunderstandings and misbehavior.

It’s also important to set limits with your loved ones who are incarcerated. While it’s important to maintain a connection with them, it’s also important to prioritize your child’s needs. If your loved one’s behavior or language is inappropriate, it’s okay to set boundaries and limit communication.

Be empathetic

Children of incarcerated parents may experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion, and anxiety. It’s important to be empathetic and understanding of their feelings.

One way to be empathetic is by listening to your child. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, and validate their emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad or angry, and that you are there for them.

It’s also important to be patient with your child. They may act out or struggle in school or social situations. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, try to understand that their behavior is a result of their circumstances. Offer support and guidance, and help them to develop coping skills.

Choose a mentor

It’s important for children to have positive role models in their lives. If your loved one is incarcerated, it can be difficult to provide this yourself. One solution is to choose a mentor for your child.

A mentor can be a teacher, coach, family friend, or other trusted adult.

They can provide your child with guidance, support, and positive role modeling. This can help to mitigate some of the negative effects of parental incarceration, and provide your child with a sense of stability and security.

When choosing a mentor, look for someone who shares your values and is committed to your child’s well-being. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and expectations for the mentorship, and to communicate regularly with your child’s mentor.

Do your best to find a way to communicate with your loved ones

When a loved one is incarcerated, it can be difficult to maintain a relationship with them. However, it’s important to do your best to find a way to communicate with them. This can help to maintain a sense of family and connection, and can provide your loved one with a sense of hope and purpose.

One way to communicate with your loved one is through technology. Many prisons now offer email or video visitation services, which can make it easier to stay in touch. You can also send letters or care packages, which can provide a tangible connection.

It’s important to remember that communication can be challenging when a loved one is incarcerated. There may be restrictions on what you can say or do, and it’s important to respect these rules. It’s also important to prioritize your child’s needs, and to make sure that your loved one’s behavior is appropriate.


Parenting a child when a loved one is incarcerated can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. By staying in touch, setting limits, being empathetic, choosing a mentor, and finding ways to communicate with your loved ones, you can provide your child with a safe and successful upbringing.

Remember, each situation is unique and the specific needs of your child are paramount. When in doubt, seek professional advice. With appropriate support and resources, it is possible to raise a well-adjusted child, even under challenging circumstances.

 *This article provides general advice and suggestions. It does not constitute professional legal or mental health advice and is not a substitute for professional consultation.  


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