Episode 3: The Child

Audio

Transcript

Roxy Etta
Welcome to Anywhere Dads a podcast from University of Wisconsin Madison Extension with information and tips on how dads in jail can connect with their kids. This podcast combines the voices of dads in jail with experts in child development, parenting and incarceration. I’m your host Roxy Etta. So the next podcast topic that we have is about children. So these questions are all about your kids. And so what do you like most about your child or your children? If you can just like pick one thing, like, Oh, I love this about my child.

Dad 1
He’s fun. Extremely. Like, when I was young, my dad was extremely funny. And I’m funny, and he, my mom says that all the time, like he just some things that he does its just funny. And he’s a little pistol to but you know, he’s just he does, the things he does are just funny. So that’s one thing that I can say that he got that characteristic from us.

Dad 2
I’d like to say my daughter is outgoing, this full of life. Just I don’t, I don’t think there’s one person on like, she she gets along with everybody. She’s some She’s nice. She’s giving she’s generous, loving she, she falls in love with everything. She’s like, “That’s so adorable.” Just like what like that tree look at it. That is so adorable. She’s like, she just the best. And it’s very frustrating when you are powerless being in jail. I something happens I, I can’t do anything about I cannot be out there to protect my daughter. So I set all restraints, and boundaries, you know, as much as I can with without, you know, still allow her to be a be a kid.

Dad 3
Your child is innocent as can be you know, is our responsibility to help our child make the right decision. And it’s our responsibility for our child to be able to lean on us.

Roxy Etta
Today on anywhere, dads, we have Dr. Rebecca Shlafer as our guest, who is an expert on children and families that are affected by incarceration. She’s joining us virtually from Minnesota, and in this episode, we’ll chat about how to be a guide for children, how to use directions and encouragement while addressing the challenges of parenting on the inside. Dr. Shlafer, thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Rebecca Shlafer
Sure. So I am an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, and I’m in the Department of Pediatrics. And my background is in developmental child psychology and public health.

Roxy Etta
Great. And can you tell us a little bit about your current area of research?

Ruth Schriefer
Sure. So I tell people that my research is at the intersections of incarceration and health, broadly defined, so a lot of that work has been typically focused on children’s health when parents are involved in the criminal justice system. So that’s mental health, physical health, as well. And a lot of my work has also been focused on the health and reproductive health of justice involved women, specifically women who come to prison in jail, and are pregnant and then examining their children’s outcomes. So a sub subset of my work is really focused on incarcerated pregnant women.

Roxy Etta
I would love for you to share a little bit about child guidance.

Rebecca Shlafer
We guide and coach our kids every day in lots of different ways, right? Whether that is setting subtle reminders that it’s about time to go to the bus stop, or that they need to brush their teeth, right. And so guidance involves all of that very rarely am I going to discipline my children over not brushing their teeth, right? Or not going to the bus stop on time, but we might have repeated interactions where, let’s say, for example, I am a parent. I have four kids of different age ranges. And I would say that, like, there is right a moment with my 10 year old where I think this morning, I must have said three times. Henry, Did you brush your teeth? And you know if that was every single morning that I had to say, Henry, Did you brush your teeth, we might get to a point where I would say, Henry, I’ve had to remind you every morning for the last however many mornings. You’re not listening or you’re not focused and there’s going to be a consequence if I have to do X, Y or Z again, right? And so I think we think about those consequences as the discipline or some sort of response to a negative behavior that we want to correct or change. But I think child guidance is so much more of what we do on a day to day parenting basis that we are just sort of constantly coaching our kids through the world.

Roxy Etta
Share a little bit about what some of the barriers are of providing child guidance while incarcerated and how to maybe navigate those challenges.

Rebecca Shlafer
Yeah, I mean, I think that we can think about child guidance as it relates to children of different ages, right? Our job as parents is to really support our children in different ways at different if different developmental periods. And so what an infant needs is, of course, very different than what a young child needs, which is what’s different from a teenager or an adolescent. What’s, what’s the same about all children in terms of the challenges for incarcerated parents is not being physically present, and not being able to offer that really regular parenting in the sense of what we can do when we are proximaly, close to parent our kids. So where we are, when we are in the same place, right, it’s a lot easier to offer child guidance, for example, at the dinner table about manners or provide guidance related to homework or behavior if we are physically in the same spot. And so what’s challenging for incarcerated parents is not having those momentary interactions, right interactions, or parent child moments are really restricted to times when the kids are coming to visit or when they might talk by phone. And while there are lots of opportunities for Child Guidance in those interactions, they’re often fewer. And there’s a lot more control over those interactions,

Roxy Etta
Any suggestions, perhaps an encouragement and what that means and how to perhaps use directions and encouragement, even very restricted role that incarcerated dads have?

Rebecca Shlafer
Like in the context of a parent who is incarcerated, I think there’s a lot of encouragement that can happen from a distance, right? So whether that’s written through letters that go from the jail or prison to a child at home, just really supporting the child saying things like, Oh, I’m really impressed by, you know, your coloring, or for a young kid, it may be I’m, you know, I’m, I think it’s cool how you are learning how to spell or I’m really impressed by your attention at school or, you know, just continuing to kind of identify things that the child is doing well, to provide praise, but also to help kids understand and all parents, you know, communicate through language through words, to set models for their kids behavior. And so it’s not just talking to your kids every time they do something wrong, right? It’s this constant use of language to support, encourage, and coach them along the way. I mean, all kids benefit from hearing what they’re doing, right? We all do, right? Not just kids, but adults, too. If we’re doing something, right, it’s good to know we’re doing it right. And it’s and parenting isn’t just about telling our kids what they’re doing wrong and coaching them in that way, right? It is saying things like, you know, I can tell, and apparently I do this, from a distance, I can tell that you’ve done a nice job getting to school in the morning, or for a teenager, you know, I appreciate that you’re helping mom out around the house, or thanks for taking responsibility for your things so that mom doesn’t have as much stress at home, right, or, you know, one of the things that, and again, this is a silly example. But it’s something I tell my kids all the time, like, when I get home from work, and they’re coming home from school, we have these moments where, like, I can’t do all of the things, but they’re old enough where they can help with the lower rack of the dishwasher. And so I’ve had to say to them before, I just want you to know how much it helps me when you unload the bottom half of the dishwasher because then if you’re doing the bottom half of the dishwasher, I can do the top half of the dishwasher and we can get dinner started. And everybody does better when we work together as a team and that makes me feel good. And I really like your help. You know, I could take another strategy by forcing them to unload the dishwasher or you know, or, or using more stern language, but it’s instead helping them understand how that their actions impact me and how it impacts our whole family is, I think a could be a more effective strategy.

Roxy Etta
Great. We’re cruising right along. Great. The next cut The topic I’d like to cover is rules, rewards and consequences. Do you have any suggestions, perhaps on best practices for establishing rules, and rewarding and administering consequences to kids?

Rebecca Shlafer
I think the thing that’s most important is for rules and consequences is consistent expectations, right? So consistently setting the expectations consistently as parents following through with those expectations. And kids need to understand, this is what I’m going to get from mom or dad or grandma or auntie, in terms of what he or she or they expect for my behavior and what the consequences will be. If I if I don’t, you know, I think one of the other things is that’s really important here is that kids respond, each kid is different. And kids respond differently to different kinds of coaching and discipline and rules. And, you know, with our four kids, I know for a fact that like, we parent them differently, and we will often say to them, it doesn’t have to be equal to be fair, right. So just because I parent, my daughter, one way, or I have an expectation for my daughter, in terms of one thing doesn’t mean that it has to be the exact same thing for Henry, our nine year old in order for it to be fair, right, the fair part is that I am going to have hold them all to the same high expectations, and then I’m going to adapt my parenting to meet their needs. And recognizing that as individual children, they have different individual needs. And so I think one of the things that is really important in this discussion of sort of setting limits, setting rules is that as the parent, it’s important for you to get to know your kid or kids, but to consistently respond to each child in a way that they come to expect, right? kids thrive in expectations. And so, you know, being consistent every time in terms of behavior and setting the expectations in advance, and then making it clear both that positive reinforcement when that expectation has been filled. And then doing some coaching, when that expectation hasn’t been filled is really important. One of the other things I want to say about consequences is so often as as parents, we can be incredibly frus… frustrated with our kids, and we can our our reaction can be to, you know, this classic, I’m going to send you to your room. And really, I’d encourage parents to think about the ways when our kids are misbehaving, that that’s a signal that we need to bring them closer. You know, we’re often as parents, we can get really frustrated to the point that like, we would rather just not have an interaction with our kids. But so often what child’s behavior is saying, when they’re misbehaving when they’re acting out is is not go put me in my room and ignore me mom or dad, it is bring me close and help me understand what I need as a child.

Roxy Etta
speaking about this as making me think a lot about how it’s very difficult for dads who are incarcerated, obviously, to be a part of, you know, these rules and rewards and consequences. How do they navigate doing this?

Rebecca Shlafer
it’s, it’s challenging, because this is not the same, but I will draw a parallel when my husband is traveling for work, I am in charge 100% of the time. And when my when our kids are challenging. What I don’t need from him from a distance is tried trying to manage their behavior or control their behavior, because he’s not here, right, and he’s not doing it. What I need for him is to be my co-parent, I need him to be my my partner. And I need him simply to listen sometimes to what’s been frustrating for me, because sometimes, that’s all I need to be able to sort of vent and go back to the system, right, you know, and sort of try again, as a parent, and sort of process the challenging parts of the day with him. Now, that can be really hard for incarcerated parents, particularly if they are not romantically involved, or you know, it’s a situation where there’s a lot of stress or strain in the co-parenting relationship, I think the best thing that co-parents can do is to try to be on the same page about expectations, right? Because the majority of incarcerated parents are going to be getting out of prison or jail and return to some kind of caregiving role. And they need to support that co-parent, even if they’re not romantically involved, right? So it can be easier in some ways, if that’s your romantic partner, your spouse, your girlfriend, whomever, and in other ways, it can be harder. But I think about for incarcerated fathers who whose parents might be raising the children, right for grandparents who are raising grandchildren and dads are in jail, I think, really just trying to be the support for the co-parent that’s they can acknowledging that it’s really hard for the parent to be doing it all on their own, you know, for grandma to take on what she’s taken on, to encourage grandma to be a listening ear. If grandma says, you know, what should I do about X, Y, or Z, then giving advice. But trying to really try and really direct from a distance can be really challenging. But again, providing a lot of encouragement or asking a lot of questions to just stay up to speed and get some information about how the child is doing. That is a great strategy for helping co-parents stay together and stay connected around shared goals for the child.

Roxy Etta
Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you would like to talk about?

Rebecca Shlafer
I think the most important points in terms of this topic that we’re talking about today are consistency, whether that’s being consistent in setting rules and expectations, or consistency in responding to kids needs, right? That’s what kids want. Because that set of that being consistent in your responses of the parent helps kids set expectations for what’s to come. And so that would be sort of my my biggest takeaway is our job as parents is to really try to do the same thing over as many times as we can over and over and over again, to set a set of expectations for kids that they know that as adults who love them, that we can be trusted, that we’re there for them and that the behavior is going to be that they can get the same thing from us every time in terms of just a consensus, consistent, sensitive response with every interaction.

Roxy Etta
Anywhere Dads is a product of the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension’s Human Development and Relationships Institute, and was created by Anne Clarkson, Roxy Etta, Mary Huser, Maggie Kerr, Elizabeth Lexau, Kevin Murphy, and Ciara Walker-Morgan. Music composed, arranged and performed by Doug White, Madison, Wisconsin.

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