When a parent or close family member is arrested and must spend time in jail, it can be devastating to the family. Often, however, the children are hurt the most. Younger children may simply not understand why the parent or loved one is not able to see them or not coming home at night. Teens may lash out and feel anger or resentment. Those who are left at home to pick up the pieces can find it extremely hard to talk to children, and often they simply brush it off or makeup excuses in order to avoid the harder subjects.
At Lauren Taylor Law, we fight hard to help our clients avoid jail time so they can keep jobs and stay at home with their loved ones. Everyone’s situation will be different, but here are some general ideas to keep in mind when talking to your kids about an arrest or jail time.
Should I Tell My Children About Why their Loved One is Gone?
This is a personal decision, but in general, yes. It is widely recognized that children do better when they have all the information. This allows them to begin the process of coping and adjusting. Otherwise, children will simply stay in a persistent state of wondering why their parent or other loved one is gone. Younger children may begin having nightmares or internalizing the dilemma, blaming themselves and thinking they did something wrong.
Why Not Lie?
Plenty of parents make up socially acceptable alternative stories, especially for toddlers and younger children. This might mean telling the child “daddy is working far away and will be home soon.” While this might seem like the easy way around the problem, it actually teaches a bad lesson and leads to a huge risk. It can also create changes in your own behavior.
Consider how you may change your conduct to avoid television programs where stories about the loved one may be aired. Or, what if another kid at school tells your child the truth? Now your child will have lost trust.
How to Tell Them?
First off, you don’t have to do this alone. There are plenty of terrific and time-tested resources to help you cope with the situation and help your child learn and grow from it. In fact, it can be a great teaching moment for children. In truth, the best way to tell children is to put the situation in terms they will understand without vilifying or belittling the person who is in jail.
For the youngest children who are able to understand language, a very simple explanation like, “daddy is in time out” may suffice. Fortunately, three- and four-year-olds will not retain much more. It gets the point across that the parent or other loved one made a mistake and has to spend some time away.
Those between five and 12 may do well to just have a candid discussion about what jail is and why people go there. Explain how the loved one is not “bad” because he or she made a mistake, but the person must spend some time away. Focus on the fun things you will do when they get back, and talk to your attorney or social services agency about the best way for your child to see or communicate with the loved one who is in jail.
For teens, this is a great time to teach the lessons of law-abiding behavior and the benefits of making good choices.
Other Resources for Kids
Many children’s books exist to help children through these times. In fact, Sesame Street even produces an “incarceration toolkit.” The federal government also provides resources for schools and teachers to help with children who are coping with a family member’s incarceration.
Talk to an Experienced South Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer
For those who’ve been arrested, there may be options to avoid jail altogether. Don’t plead guilty to a crime until you’ve first talked to Lauren Taylor Law about your charges. Sometimes there are diversion programs or probation options. Likewise, the state’s case may not be as strong as they claim. Call today to schedule a consultation to determine the right strategy for you.
Lauren Taylor is a Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. She graduated from the Charlotte School of Law, and has been practicing for several years now. Lauren Taylor relies on her experience and passion to fight for you during this stressful time. Learn more about her experience here.