How Incarcerated Parents Can Stay Connected With Their Children (Part 2): Danielle Cotter

Communication generates, sustains, and empowers relationships. Consistent communication between a parent and their child(ren) while the parent is incarcerated is paramount to positive attachment and well-being for all involved. 

Even though research has shown the many benefits of parents and their children remaining in contact, there are several barriers that make connection difficult to sustain. In part two of this article, communication alternatives and creative strategies for connection will be explored to show how incarcerated parents can continue to build, nurture, and heal their relationship with their children — even at a distance.

Play games
Whether a parent is in person with their child during a visit, having a phone conversation, or sending mail, games are great fun for both the parent and the child. It encourages connection in a safe, fun, and playful way. 

Simple examples are tic-tac-toe, guessing games, I Spy, and Simon Says. If in-person visits are allowed, some prisons have board games. If mail is the best form of communication, a parent can encourage a playful game of tic-tac-toe that the parent and child can send back and forth. 

Write letters
Letters are a great way for parents and children to keep their connection open and consistent. Sometimes mail is the best option for consistency, as most prisons allow for letters to be sent and received and they can be written during downtime. 

Additionally, phone calls can be hard to predict and may be on a time limit. With letters and mail, the options for how and when to connect are endless. 

Draw pictures
Drawing pictures and sending them back and forth through the mail may be a good alternative for parents who have trouble with reading and writing, as well as for those who have younger children. A parent could start part of a drawing and the child could finish it. Or they can tell stories to each other through pictures.

Ask questions and listen
Whichever options a parent and child choose as their best form of consistent communication, it’s imperative that the parent remain open to hearing their child’s feelings and thoughts as they continue to grow and develop. 

When a parent shows genuine interest and attunes to the child’s emotions and life circumstances, the child feels a sense of safety, significance, and belonging with the parent. The combination of asking questions and listening intently improves attachment and has been shown to reduce attachment disruptions.

Parents and families have several creative opportunities to remain in contact while the parent is away. Phone calls, mail, and in-person meetings all have the potential to develop positive attachment and reduce disruptions in the child’s life. A safe atmosphere of attention and attunement to the child, as well as encouraging the child’s expression of feelings, help a child to feel seen, heard, and significant in the eyes of their parent, even if the parent is not physically with the child due to incarceration.

Stay Connected is a two-part blog series by Danielle Cotter. Read Part 1.

Danielle Cotter, MA, LMFT, PMH-C, is a writer who crafts original and thought-provoking content for mental health & wellness companies, nonprofit organizations, holistic entrepreneurs, and the occasional publication. She’s passionate about writing for organizations that have a strong vision of making the world a healthier, happier, and safer place to be. Her work experience also includes being a licensed therapist, yoga teacher, nonprofit outreach director, and marketing manager. Learn more about Danielle at