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A parents' worst nightmare: Coping when a child goes to jail

On the list of frightening things a parent fears the most, having their son or daughter commit a crime and go to jail or prison has to be among the worst. There are no readily available manuals for how to cope with it. The following ideas may offer some guidance:

Coping with the reality – A parent who loves their child cannot help but feel some level of angst over what has happened. The first task to deal with the reality of the situation is within oneself. It is helpful for a parent to know that it is normal to go through the feelings of denial, shock, anger and grief. A parent may need to cope with the situation by reaching out for support from trusted friends or family. Self blame or blaming others, including one’s child, will not help the circumstances. Know that in this age of zero tolerance, children who commit crimes are judged much more harshly than in the past.

Be brave - A parent needs to be courageous and expect that people will likely assume things about them that may not be true. They need to know that they did their best as a parent regardless of what other people think. Naturally, every parent makes mistakes, some more serious than others. However, the shame or guilt can be a barrier to continuing to be the best parent possible. Even in the worst criminal cases, a parent’s continuing love and support can make a difference.

Accepting one’s child – For whatever the crime, a parent needs to remember that supporting their child does not mean they condone whatever crime occurred.

Showing that you care - The most important factor for a parent to show love for their child is for them to be willing to stand by them - through thick and thin. Just their presence in a courtroom can have a huge impact. It not only provides support to their son or daughter but their presence acts as a silent advocate to make sure one’s child is treated properly. In addition, as long as the parent acts appropriately, whether in court or visiting, it mirrors for the child how to face a difficult circumstance with dignity.

Relying on one’s faith – Spiritual support can be essential to dealing with the situation, especially on a day-to-day basis.


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