New School Year = New Opportunities to Make a Difference

New School Year = New Opportunities to Make a Difference

Many children look at their parents as an all-wise, powerful, and important person. More times than not, a child’s parent is his/her first superhero, someone that they seek help and comfort from, someone that can fight any battle and win! So, imagine the effects of witnessing their parent’s arrest or witnessing their parent’s vulnerability and helplessness while incarcerated. They tend to be confused and vulnerable themselves, unaware of what to do or how to handle their feelings. Now imagine these same children returning from summer break and starting another school year with the heavy burden of parental incarceration.

As we begin the new school year, we must take into consideration that there are many children returning to school saddened because their superhero is no longer with them due to parental incarceration. While there have been many studies conducted to highlight the effects of incarceration on children, most people don’t take these effects into consideration when dealing with a child of incarcerated parents, which often results in a child being labeled in a negative way and misunderstood.

What can we do to help children of incarnated parents have a successful school year?

I believe it is important for educators and caregivers to identify emotional and psychological challenges that this particular group of children face and provide prompt intervention to avoid the long-lasting effects of parental incarceration.  This can be done in the following ways:

  • Understand that the range of emotions that children of incarcerated parents may display is expected behavior given their situation.
  • Provide a means for children to express emotions that they may have bottled up, such as through arts and crafts, creative writing, and sports or games.
  • Encourage children of incarcerated parents to speak to educators, school counselors and caregivers about the feelings they are experiencing. Talking to a child about their experience and knowing their thoughts on the issue will provide a way for better understanding of the child’s unique situation and equip others to better handle their situation.
  • Discuss parental incarceration sensitively and help children of incarcerated parents understand the situation. Teachers should engage in frequent conversation with children of incarcerated parents and carefully tread around topics involving prison and criminals.

Remember that helping children of incarcerated parents does not include a one-size-fit- all solution, however just making a few small changes in our interactions would make a big difference in the world of children of incarcerated parents.

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