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Talking about incarceration with minors

An arrest or jail time is something that could happen to anyone. In many cases, a bail bondsman can help you or a loved one acquire a fast jail release, but of course, some circumstances lead to a person spending more time in jail than one may anticipate. These situations can add significant stress and confusion to a child’s life, especially under the circumstance that the guardian arrested holds primary custody of the child. Here are a few safe and proven ways to explain a parent’s arrest to children of all age groups.

Ages 1-4

A toddler may perceive an arrest with immediate fear of separation and be unable to psychologically separate harm to parents from harm to self. Acknowledge the parent’s importance to the child and speak slowly, in a low, comforting tone: “I know you are scared, but no one is going to hurt you or your Mommy/Daddy.” Ensuring that the children are out of the way in a safe place is the best possible strategy.

Ages 4-5

Children of preschool age will also fear separation and loss of parental protection. They often feel highly anxious that their parent or guardian will be hurt, and may view a police officer as an action figure who can either help, hurt, or take them away. They may also blame their own behavior or wishes to have caused the arrest. When speaking to a child in this age range, talk to them at eye level. Clarify basic facts in a language easy to understand. Reassure the child that the arrest is not their fault, and do not make any promises you cannot keep.

Ages 6-12

By school age, children have started to consider the difference between right or wrong and fair or unfair. Speak with the child calmly and reasonably. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, be honest; and explain that you don’t know but will find out. Again, reinforce that the situation is not their fault, and you know they love their parent or guardian.

Ages 13-18

Adolescents fear the loss of their parent or guardian and may show anger toward the officer. They may even attempt to defend or prevent their parent’s arrest. Under these circumstances, it’s best to allow the teen time to vent their fear and feelings. Explain rules and structure to help ensure that the teen feels secure: “This is the way the law says we have to do it. What happens next is ___ and we will let you know in __ minutes what’s going to happen to your mom/dad.”

Visit the National Institute of Corrections for related resources to help you explain an arrest to children. If you, or someone you love, is incarcerated at the federal, state, or local level, we advise you to receive counsel from an attorney or bail bondsman to review your options. Call AAA Bail Bonds at 612-900-3400 with any related bail questions and concerns.