If you are facing this struggle, you are not alone
Yikes!! Your visit just got started and your kids are acting up again. Everyone is looking at you and you are trying to decide what to do. Should you spank him, sit him in a chair, talk to him? You feel overwhelmed and intimated by all of the people watching you discipline your child. You think to yourself, “Maybe I should just let it go for now and deal with it later.” Then, he acts out even more.
If this is you, you are not alone. Every mother who regularly takes her children to visit their father in prison faces this situation. This is especially true if you have children under 5 years old. Prison visits are hard on everyone in the family. Knowing how to discipline your children in a prison visiting room can mean the difference between a great visit and a terrible visit.
Parenting in prison visits
I have raised 3 children in prison visiting rooms across 15 years. It is not easy. But I have a learned a lot about what to do. Even more importantly, I learned what not to do. Here are my tips that will save your sanity, reputation, and help your kids be on their best behavior during visits.
1 - Remember that this is really hard on your child.
It is easy to forget how stressful this is on your children when you are in the midst of managing your own pain. They are not trying to ruin your visit, they are kids learning to abide by rules. You get to teach them.
2 - Let them be kids.
Within the boundaries of the prison rules, let them have freedom to laugh, be themselves, move around, and connect with their father. There is nothing worse for children than having to sit still for hours.
3 - Review the rules for visiting ahead of time
I don’t mean on the way there, or in the waiting room. I mean days before you go. Talk while you are together in your home during a non-stressful time. Dinner time is a great time to talk about expectations and rules for the visit with Daddy. Let them ask questions and be sure to tell them which ones are prison rules, and which ones are your rules.
4 - Practice prevention before the visit.
Make your trip as fun as possible for your children. Bring activities for the car ride, try to arrive early so they can run around at a local playground before having to sit for hours again (bring extra clothes in case they get dirty), sing silly songs together in the car, or talk about upcoming fun activities if your child is older. Anything you can think of to reduce the stress they are feeling will help them behave better once you are in the visiting room.
Prison visits were both wonderful and terrible moments in our lives.
Wonderful because we got to be together, hold each other (however briefly) and talk to each other while we looked into each other’s eyes. Terrible for so many other reasons – the location, the atmosphere, and the reminder of the reality that prison was a part of our family’s story.
5 - Keep your mind on your goal
Your goal is to raise your children healthy and strong, to keep them out of prison, and to make sure they feel loved and accepted for they are. When you remember this, it is easier to create teachable moments instead of finding ways to control your children.
6 - Engage your children in the visit
Engage your children in the visit by addressing the 3 things that will cause them to act up. I have found that most acting out occurs when the child is bored, tired, or hungry. Feed them, bring them to the visit well rested, and make sure to include them in the visit. Look at them, include them, let them have their own time with Daddy.
7 - Talk to them
If they begin to act up or disobey, talk to them directly. Remind them of the rules and let them know which rule they are breaking. Do not talk about them or yell at them. I have seen so many moms look at their fathers and say, “see, I told you he wouldn’t behave. He is rotten and doesn’t ever listen to me.” Never, never, never do that. It only makes the situation worse.
8 - Remove them from the table
If telling them to stop doesn’t work, take your child somewhere private to talk to them about their behavior. yes, I do know that this is probably the bathroom. Stay there with them for at least 5 minutes. The change of location will help them settle down. Never discipline them in public. Publicly praise, privately correct. If your child is a toddler or smaller, carrying them to another location also helps to calm them down.
9 - Firm, friendly, and fair
Think about these 3 words as you correct your child in the visiting room. You do not have to be mean, only firm. You have a long term goal that is more important than these next 10 minutes. When you combine friendliness and fairness with firmness, you are teaching your child instead of just gaining compliance.
10 - Let it go
After you have corrected him, let it go. Don’t spend any more time talking about it. Get back to enjoying your visit as soon as you can. Read a book together, play a game at your table, share a snack—just get back to focusing on your time together as a family as soon as you have addressed the issue.
By being consistent in the visiting room and at home, you will set the standard for your children’s behavior. Your children are more important than what others think. Enjoy your visits and expect your kids to be kids.
I am rooting for you!