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Sesame Street in Communities

The Big Idea: Telling children the truth about a parent’s incarceration can be scary, but it’s necessary.

Ask Me Anything

Coping With Incarceration Age 2 to 6 10 Min

Build a special trusting bond with simple age-appropriate answers. Begin by letting children know their parent’s incarceration is not their fault and nothing for him to be ashamed of. Children often have their own mistaken reasons for a parent’s absence. Here are three common questions and possible answers.

“Where Is Mommy/Daddy?”

(If not sentenced) “Mommy/Daddy is in a place called jail. He’s there because he may have broken a grown-up rule called a law.”
(If sentenced) “Mommy/Daddy is in a place called prison for a while. Grown-ups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law. He’s not there because of anything you did. This is not your fault.”

“When will Mommy/Daddy be home?”

If you don’t know, you might say, “Mommy/Daddy won’t be home for a while. We are waiting to learn more. I will let you know as soon as I find out.”
If you do know, explain it in a concrete way that kids can understand. For instance, “three birthdays from now,” “when you are five,” or “next winter, when it’s time for hats and gloves.”

“Will I get to see Mommy/Daddy?”

(If yes) “You can visit Daddy in prison once in a while. I’ll let you know when. Between visits you can write him letters, draw him pictures, and talk to him on the phone.”
(If no) “We won’t be able to visit, but you can draw pictures and write letters to each other whenever you want.” (If there are legal reasons that contact is not allowed, it’s important to follow that advice.)