When a child has an incarcerated parent, their social and academic performance can be severely impacted. Here are three helpful ways teachers can support students with incarcerated parents.
Be mindful of triggering topics.
Some classroom lessons involve discussions of controversial topics that could be triggering for students who have incarcerated parents. Make your classroom a safe space by creating signals that allow each child to alert you when they feel emotionally overwhelmed or when a topic triggers negative memories for them. If possible, it can also be accommodating to create alternative lessons for children who may be sensitive to certain topics related to their home life. By helping children learn to vocalize their triggers, you're teaching them to stand up and use their voices when they feel uncomfortable. You are also teaching them that it is okay to step away and take a moment to process negative emotions.
Understanding trauma responses.
As a teacher, it's important to understand that trauma often affects a child’s physiological and emotional responses. Childhood trauma can hinder a child's ability to think, learn, and concentrate, along with having negative impacts on the child's impulse control, self-image, and relationships with others. Having an incarcerated parent is considered by experts as an “adverse childhood experience” (ACE). Exposure to multiple adverse childhood experiences significantly increases the likelihood of long-term negative behavioral and physical health outcomes. You can support students with incarcerated parents by understanding and recognizing that some of their behaviors are responses to trauma - and by redirecting these behaviors, teaching the child to create more positive patterns of learning and communicating.
Children with incarcerated parents can benefit from having additional adults in their lives who truly care about their outcomes. As educators it is your responsibility to understand these children and meet them where they are, so that they can have a fair and supportive academic experience.