One in 28 kids has a parent that will not be home for the holidays and about half the children with incarcerated parents are less than 10 years old. The holidays can be hard for everyone, especially for prisoners and family of those incarcerated. The food can be a little better, but many of those imprisoned long to be with their families during the holidays. While prisoners struggle being apart from their family, there’s also a parental absence for children. In 2010, there were 120,000 incarcerated mothers and 1.1 million incarcerated fathers of minor children.

When a parent is incarcerated during the holidays, it changes family traditions. Some families go from a two-parent household to a single parent household. Among other effects, this can cause financial stress in a time that is already tough on the family dynamic. While many kids are baking cookies for Santa and attending holiday parties, others wonder if they will have heat for another day, food on the table or anything in their stocking come Christmas morning. The joyous season can highlight the gaping hole of where a parent should be.

While nothing can replace a parent or loved one, there are a few tactics caring individuals can do to help during the holiday season.

  1. Listening. If you’re able to spend time with a child who has a parent in prison, take the time to listen to them. Children of the incarcerated often have a hard time talking about their feelings and may take on irrational personal responsibility for their parent’s actions. If a caring adult is able to help a child articulate their feelings, the child can process their feelings productively.   
  2. Be a good role model. Some children feel betrayal after having their parent incarcerated. It’s important for them to have a positive role model to overcome those feelings and learn to trust again.
  3. Support. Often the children’s primary caregiver, usually a family member, is dealing with their own feelings of betrayal, loneliness, anger and anxiety after a loved one is incarcerated. Mentally, it can be a lot for them to balance their own feelings along with their children’s. A way to help is by allowing them a break from their responsibilities. Whether that’s babysitting so they can go holiday shopping, lending a listening ear, or inviting them over for a holiday meal, offering support helps them deal with caregiving challenges.

By assisting their family, you’re also helping out the incarcerated individual. Here are a few other simple ways to encourage a prisoner during the holidays.

  1. Visit. Since the holidays can be hard, visitors are a welcome break from the mundane prisoner lifestyle. A visit from a loved one offers a reminder of what the prisoner is working towards.
  2. Money. Some prison communication services require payment from the incarcerated, so sending money to a prisoner helps them pay to communicate with their loved ones. Examples of communication costs are JPay or stamps for snail mail. Communication with a prisoner can help in their healing process.
  3. Gifts. The holidays are all about giving to those you love and those in prison are no exception. Some services, like SecurePak, allow family members to send a package to a prisoner once per quarter. Packages during the holidays not only show that the incarcerated individual is cared for, but that their loved ones are thinking about them and look forward to the day they will be home for the holidays.

The holidays are hard for all parties affected by an imprisoned family member, but with help from others, there are still ways to enjoy the holiday season.

To read about more ways you can help a prisoner, check out this blog post