Watch Sesame Street Teach Kids About Incarceration

It's never easy to talk about an incarcerated loved one in public, and it's an especially difficult task for children.

By Jamilah King Jun 13, 2013

It’s never easy to talk about an incarcerated loved one in public, and it’s an especially difficult task for children. In 2007 the Sentencing Project estimated that 1.7 million kids in America have at least one parent behind bars, more than 70 percent of whom are children of color. But the task of explaining a complex adult topic to a child may have gotten a little bit less cumbersome now that Sesame Street is involved.

The long-running children’s series has released a new toolkit called "Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration" that includes videos, worksheets, and tips for both children and caregivers. The series is aimed at kids ages 2-7 years old, but the tips could be helpful for older kids and even adults, too.

From Sesame Street’s website:

The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through.

Along with videos, the series also includes a list of helpful tips to help children through the complicated emotions that go along with talking about a loved one’s incarceration:

1. Build security. In the morning, let your child know some of the things that will happen throughout the day. For example, "Grandma will pick you up from school. Then you’ll go to the park, and later we’ll all have dinner together."

2. Share your heart. Give your child a paper heart to keep in her pocket. You might say, "This is to remind you that I love you and will always be there for you."

3. Express emotions. Take time each day to check in with your child and ask, "How are you feeling?" Remember to let your child know that it’s okay to have big feelings no matter what they are.

4. Answer honestly. When explaining where an incarcerated parent is, you can say, "Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grown-ups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law."

5. Stay connected. Phone calls are a great way to reach out. Help your child to think of something she’d like to tell her incarcerated parent, and give her a photo of her parent to hold during the call.

6. Prepare together. Before you visit your incarcerated loved one, let your child know some of the things she can expect to happen. For instance, "We won’t be able to sit in the same room with Mommy, but we can see her through a window and read a story together."

7. Take care of yourself. Caring for yourself helps you care for your child. At least once a day, do something that you enjoy or find relaxing.

See Sesame Street’s full toolkit for the children of incarcerated parents on their website.