Tag: <span>tfcbt</span>

When a Parent or Loved One Goes to Jail

How do I tell the children their parent or loved one went to jail? Book Review: The Night Dad Went to Jail by Melissa Higgins Dad went to jail The Night Dad Went to Jail is a children’s book has been on my radar to check out for a long time since I come across several children and teens whose parent went to jail. Having a parent or loved one go to jail can be extremely traumatic and jarring for most children. It’s a big transition that can come with confusion, shame, fear, worry and sadness. This book does a really nice job of normalizing the feelings that children have when faced with this difficult situation. I like that it also folds in statistics about parents in jail/prison and recommendations for the person reading the book to the child. Another positive aspect of the book is that it incorporates interactions with police, social workers, therapists, and a caregiver — all supporting the child. Additionally, the book is written in the first person, the eyes of this young bunny. It very much reads like a narrative that is often used in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TFCBT) — an exposure based trauma treatment where children and teens draw or write out the details of their trauma and work with their therapist to modify negative thoughts or beliefs about the event, themselves or their future. As a certified TFCBT therapist, it was heartwarming to read this book which provides great information, recommendations, and above all, providing normalization for kiddos’ and their parents’ reactions in the face of such a challenging situation. What to say: Depending on the child’s age and their level of understanding, you will have to craft out an explanation in their own language or phrasing. Most children know about cause and effect, so keeping it as simple without too many details of the actual crime could suffice in the beginning. A sample explanation can be: “Your mom or dad (or the name of the loved one) may have broken the law (or rules) and the police are asking him/her questions. Sometimes these things take a while — maybe some days, maybe months. If mom/dad/loved one broke a rule/law, we might not see them for a while. Depending on the developmental stage the child is in, sometimes they believe that they are at fault or to blame. Make sure to reassure the child that adults are responsible for their own behavior. You can also distinguish the behavior from the character of the person if necessary. Such as, “Mom/dad/loved one is not a bad person, he/she broke a rule/law. He/she loves you very much and misses you too.” Encourage them to talk with you about their fears, concerns, or any thoughts and feelings they might be having. Above all, be willing and open to listening to them and validate their feelings (even if their thoughts might be distorted). Employ the “yes, and” communication rule in your vocabulary to help them see the validity of their emotions, and how sometimes they can be clouded by negative thoughts. An example can be, “I know that you’re sad and feeling guilty about this being your fault, and mom/dad/loved one is an adult and all adults are responsible for their own behavior.” Therapist tip: Sometimes children have a hard time opening up about a certain situation, feelings, or distressing topic. It can help to have a story read, told to them, or even watching a movie about another person going through the same or similar situation. It can get the very difficult conversation started. Amazon Prime tip: If you have Amazon Prime, currently this book is listed as an unlimited free read and download on the Kindle app. That’s how I read it. But since I liked it so much, I’m going to buy it and keep it in my arsenal of books in the office. If you believe that you or your child is struggling with a transition such as this one, feel free to contact me and we can set up a consultation session to discuss the specifics of your situation and how to tailor interventions. To purchase or download the book for free, click on the image below: *Disclaimer: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. You should also know that I stand by my recommendations as I read or use everything I recommend. The fees earned from Amazon.com go toward purchasing more books and materials used in my practice. 

“I’m not bad…”

Ever want to shout out at a naughty child, “Stop it, you’re being BAD?” You are definitely not alone. Parenting, caregiving, teaching children requires lots of patience and skill especially when they are not complying.

Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who heard this from teachers, siblings, and well-meaning neighbors. These kids didn’t listen, were very hyperactive, and above all, mischievous. I didn’t like some of them. I was friends with some. Later, I would come to find out that kids aren’t bad, they just engage in behaviors that are either not expected, liked, or accepted for the situation.

Which is why when one of my daughter’s first words were, “bad! bad!” I cringed and as I was trying to tolerate the shame of having my daughter say this (and with conviction), I of course, yelled at my husband. You see, in her first year of life, my husband would constantly tell our chihuahua, Millie that she was “bad! bad!” when she would bark at strangers, family members, the baby, nothing, or a knock on tv (she’s just protective!). My family would laugh at me when I would say, “Millie’s not bad, she just makes poor choices.” Yes, these are the conversations in the home of a therapist. My point was that Millie was responding to her internal alarm, her “flight and fight” response telling her to protect us and the home. And while she has a lot to learn about life and real and perceived danger, we as her parents need to train her to do better, instead of making her feel as though she’s bad. Every time I hear someone say “bad person” it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. Mainly because I know how much people suffer when they believe it about themselves.

In my work, the “I’m a bad person” core belief comes up quite frequently. A lot of people believe they are inherently BAD. When we examine this belief and its history on their life, we find that the message (or “seed” as I like to refer to it as), “You’re bad” was planted back in childhood. It might have been an innocent, non-ill intentioned experience, and it kept being reinforced through time and other experiences. I tell my clients that these reinforced experiences are like oxygen, water and sunlight… all the things that a core belief and “tree” needs to grow and thrive. Then people start to believe the message and can develop assumptions about themselves and act accordingly. Two extremes can be: 1) continue to act that belief out, ex: “Since I’m bad and everyone knows it, I will continue to do bad things.” and/or ; 2) do everything possible to combat this belief or “inherent trait”, ex: “I have to go above and beyond to do nice things so that no one catches on and sees that I’m actually really a bad person.” Such behaviors can cause people to suffer and ultimately, behave in ways that are opposite to their values or goals.

Now that my daughter is 3.5 years old, I see her personality flourishing, how she developmentally appropriately pushes boundaries (and bedtime, and more snacks, or juice after brushing teeth, or stalling to clean up toys and on and on), and asserts her independence (no, I do it!),  and how she is also starting to hold on to certain beliefs about herself and even others, like Millie = bad. It won’t be before long that an experience plants a seed about how her behavior is a direct reflection of something or someone she inherently is, even though it really isn’t.

And so this post is for her, for me, for you and your children. Let this image be a reminder that kids aren’t bad, they’re just:

Hungry. Tired. Bored. Overly Stimulated. Super excited. Frustrated. Delirious. Loopy. Sad. Having bad memories (trauma reactions look a lot like hyperactivity in kids – more on this in a later post). Legitimately not listening to you or the directions.

Sure it frustrates the hell out of us parents or caregivers (or aunts, teachers, sitters, cousins, grandparents), mainly because we’re:

Hungry. Tired. Bored. Overly Stimulated. Super excited. Frustrated. Delirious. Loopy. Sad. Having bad memories (trauma reactions look a lot like irritability in adults – more on this in a later post). Legitimately not listening to them or the directions they have for us.

And that doesn’t make us bad either.

Hey, parenting, teaching, caregiving – it’s all hard. Every day is a whole new ballgame. Be kind to yourself and those kiddos.

Stay tuned for the next post focusing on what you can do to help with some of these behaviors.


If you feel triggered by this article and are in need of some immediate resources, I urge you to contact:

  • 911 or go to your nearest ER if you feel you a danger to yourself or others
  • 211 – in LA County it’s the social service directory for grief groups, therapy resources, housing, and more. It’s also online, google, “211”
  • LA County Access hotline for a psychiatric evaluation wherever you are located. The ACCESS/HOTLINE Phone number is : 1-800-854-7771. ACCESS operates 24 hours/day, 7 days/week as the entry point for mental health services in Los Angeles County.
  • Email me at info@sofiamendozalcsw.com if you’d like to inquire about an appointment with me in the Long Beach area. I can also help connect you to other therapists if you live elsewhere.
  • If you would like to access your insurance mental health benefits, there should be a Member Phone number on the back of your insurance card. Ask them for their list of approved therapists. They can also email it to you, making it easy to cross reference the list on www.psychologytoday.com where you can check their profiles out.

Thank you for reading. Follow me on Instagram under @mendingrootstherapy to get updates about new articles, quotes and other musings on mental health.


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