Episode 5: Effective Communication: Visitation

Audio

Transcript

Dad 1
Any way I can be able to have contact with my with my daughter and I try to try to as much as possible.

Roxy Etta
Do you think your daughter likes it?

Dad 1
Yes, she she loves to see me. Yeah, let’s see that. I know that. But like I said, No, she wishes that you know like she could touch me. No. So it’s kind of hard as it was like seeing these isn’t enough you can just see like, if she wish, you know she can hug me.

Dad 2
When my daughter see me, she just cried. She said she was so happy to see me. And I was proud. It was like one of the happiest moments. I really realized that needed to be in her home.

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. Hilary, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hilary Cuthrell
Sure. So yes, I’m Hilary Cuthrell. I am a correctional programs specialist at the National Institute of Corrections, which is nested within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. And I’ve been working with children of incarcerated parents for a little over a decade. Right now, I have the honor and privilege of working on a national level with incarcerated parents and their children and families, both in local facilities as well as state facilities.

Roxy Etta
So I just wanted to start off with maybe broadly talking about effective communication strategies for visitation.

Hilary Cuthrell
I think it’s just important to note that every facility is different. And so really trying to make the best of sort of what the situation that you’re in, is kind of the the best way to kind of go at it. So it is it’s very difficult. And I think it’s really important to just keep in mind that, you know, especially with young children, they’re still developing. And so when you’re communicating with a young child, you know, you are using not only your voice, but also you’re communicating with your face and your body, right, so this sort of nonverbal communication so that children can read your face and your expressions, you know, think about how we typically communicate with young kids, we kind of get on the floor, and we’re able to sort of act things out. So when you’re communicating in a jail facility, you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage, because you are communicating just verbally and a lot of times what little is or what little contact that you have with your child, it’s through plexiglas, or it’s through a tele-visiting monitor. And sometimes children have a really difficult time hearing you and seeing you through those devices. And there might be even a lag in your communication. So just be really mindful, especially with young children, that when you’re talking to them, you may have to enunciate your words, or you may have to slow down your speech, or you may have to repeat yourself, which can be really frustrating. But it’s important to realize that children aren’t don’t have the advantage of reading your face and your body language. And that’s those are really key indicators for them to understand what’s going on in their communication. So that’s something really important to keep in mind. And then another form of effective communication is to just really listen to your child as attentively as possible, there’s a lot going on in visitation rooms, there are slamming of doors, and you know, walkie talkies kind of blazing. So it’s important for you to just really focus on what your child is saying, try your best to have the child complete all their sentences and their statements and just keep eye contact if you have the opportunity to see their face. And just be as mindful as you can with what they’re saying. And acknowledge that you heard what they said. Also, I just think, you know, really basically ask ask your child what they want to talk about. I think it’s visitation, it’s it’s a good time to allow children to speak about how they’re feeling and what’s coming up for them during their parent’s incarceration. And I think just keeping it open ended and allowing the child to kind of speak up and narrate their experience is really important. And then lastly, I would say just to be really planful. So before you even get to the visitation space and the visit room, or whether you before you pick up the phone, if you’re doing tele visiting, or you log on to the tablet, and try to think about a few questions or topics that are relevant to your child prior to the visit. So, you know, think about upcoming events, current events, or whether you know, with a young child, maybe going through the ABCs, whatever it might be. So just kind of give your give yourself a little bit of time to think about things that are relevant to your child. So you have them in your back pocket, so that if you do encounter like an awkward silence or somebody is frustrated, it’s a good way to kind of fall back on some information and communication that you had in mind or intended to communicate with your child to try to try your best to hold off on communicating your frustration to staff or whatever might be happening within the correctional facility because that could be detrimental to your child choosing to visit in the future and the caregiver also. So it’s frustrating. It’s hard. It’s, you know, but but what you can do is you can be planful, and you can be sort of a calm space for the child to communicate with you. And that’s, that’s really all, you know, that you can do. It’s all within all within your reach and in your control.

Dad 1
She knows that no matter what like, like, she has she has that, you know, and that’s all that she needs. No, no matter what, no, if what happens, you know, she always says, one of our, you know, like, one thing that she always tells me, you know, like, even though you’re not here, you know, you always be in my heart. So just that alone, as we know that everything that I have done, and the time that I’ve missed she, she does not I’m not mad at you. I’m not mad at you. And you know, we’ll make it up. You know, she knows I’m gonna make it up to her.

Roxy Etta
Do you have any suggestions on ways to have interactive engagement during a visit?

Hilary Cuthrell
Yes. So this is a really interesting question. So it’s all about being creative. I think there’s a couple of pointers that could be helpful for incarcerated parents to have interactive engagement. And this works remotely or through plexiglass, or contact visits, whatever type of contact you you’re afforded. So most young children like routines, and they like a little bit of predictability. So if you if your child is, you know, toddler age or a young child, I would recommend maybe thinking about trying to establish a little bit of like a greeting, or a goodbye that the child can look forward to. So every time you get on the phone, or every time, perhaps you’re communicating through plexiglas, you guys can have, you know, a greeting, whether it’s singing a song, or touching the glass in a certain way, or kind of going through a greeting or a goodbye. And I think that that’s really exciting for children, I think it’s something that they look forward to, it’s something that’s predictable. And there’s a little bit of what we call foreshadowing. So children are under understand what their what to expect. And I think that that’s really helpful for them and can calm their nerves as well, they’ll have an idea of what to expect. And then as I mentioned before, really just trying to be creative, so for younger children, playing a game like I Spy, so I spy something blue in the room, and you kind of have to scan the room as well and figure out what that blue object is, and utilizing what materials are in the room as best you can. So for example, have your child read a book to you, if they have books on the visitation side of the Correctional Facility, for example, the child can read the book or hold the book up to you through plexiglass or over the phone, and you guys can talk and communicate about the illustrations in the book. And then for older children, an alternative is if you could possibly acquire a book on the inside, and the same book is, could be acquired for your child on the outside, they could, you know, pick it up from the library or acquire it through school, so that the two of you are reading the same book at the same time. I’ve actually seen that in a couple of different parent child dyads, where dad is reading the same book as their child on the outside. And they every week, they get together and they discuss a chapter. And that’s just really incredible, it’s a good way to sort of stay connected and to communicate with something beyond the incarceration. And then, you know, for families that do have contact, just the simple act of sharing a meal together. A lot of times families gravitate toward the vending machines, and they’re able to get snacks and beverages and they put them on the table. And it’s really sort of this natural way of sitting with your family and just having typical normative conversations over food. That’s what we do, right? Like that’s so such a basic human form of communication and contact. And I think that incarcerated fathers are so amazing at finding creative ways to connect with their child. And remember, your child is always growing and developing. And it’s difficult because you have to really stay on top of it, you might visit with them one month, and then you’ll see them a couple months later. And they’re in a completely different developmental stage. And so it really is a task of trying to trying to stay on top of it. I would also just encourage incarcerated fathers to maybe connect with other people in their housing unit or pods that they know have similar age children or maybe even slightly older children just so that they can communicate or have a conversation with them about what worked or maybe even what didn’t work, right because then you can gain a little bit more confidence about your approaches to talking with your children and having that sort of effective interaction.

Dad 2
And I’ve tried to sit down and you know, at least like every visit that I’ve been having while I’ve been incarcerated, she always she’s you go run to go grab you know two, three books. I read you know like two three books while I’m on a visit.

Roxy Etta
Would you suggest perhaps if in person visitation doesn’t feel comfortable to people remaining involved in a different way? Yes,

Hilary Cuthrell
absolute And so that’s another question that comes up. And I also want to mention that comfortability from the child’s perspective can change. So as children age, they may be excited, happy, engaged, encouraged to come visit or to be on the phone. And as they age that might change, like, they may become angry, they may become confused, they may become frustrated, and they may become withdrawn because of the distance between their incarcerated parent and themselves. So, you know, it can change, it can fluctuate, and that is really difficult for an incarcerated parent to experience and as well as the child. And so I think it’s always going to sort of be this moving, evolving, changing relationship from the outside and the inside. And I think you just have to really have open communication with your child and meet them where they’re at. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. And I understand I’ve heard from parents caught, you know, contact visitation being very helpful, or it may not be suitable for all children, children have different needs, different triggers. And so really just being open and mindful about what works best for your child and trying to meet them where they’re at, I think is a good a good philosophy to have.

Dad 3
Having any kind of contact with your kids is special, because they just need to know that you’re still around, and you’ll still be there.

Roxy Etta
So the last sort of topic I wanted to touch on, which might take us some time to cover because I’m sure that there are a lot potential challenges or stressors for children during visitation and how to address them, or perhaps overcome them.

Hilary Cuthrell
First of all, being planful, being mindful of what are as an incarcerated parent, what are some of the triggers in the room for you? Is it the slamming of the doors? Is it the loudness? Is it the close proximity of everybody trying to communicate, and just try to acknowledge that, that they’re happening and that they exist and try to really create a calm environment for yourself, because I think that that is something that’s an energy that you put off and your child will absolutely pick up on it. So just do your best to say, Hmm, that’s something that’s really bothering me. And I’m going to acknowledge it. And I’m just going to try to focus on my child and my family and kind of move through it. I think the overall feedback and experience of incarcerated parents in general in terms of visitation spaces is it’s loud, is a very loud, typically very loud space, you have oftentimes families are sort of cramped together in very tight spaces. And so you have a lot of conversations that can get very heated, a lot of raw emotion kind of being thrown around, and children pick up on that very easily. And they become very in tune with sort of what’s going on in the room. And so I think, acknowledging that it’s loud, and doing your best to communicate, have effective communication as best you can, whenever possible, perhaps sitting at a table or sitting at a space further away from other families would be really helpful, it would minimize just the distractions for children, because they become very curious of other people, especially children that are nearby. And I know it’s not always possible to position yourself in a physical space like that, but just try your best. That’s an option. And also, just know that children, it’s, you know, it’s part of their intuition to get up and explore their space. And oftentimes, especially when you’re communicating through plexiglass or tele visiting, their attention span does not always suit the needs of that visitation. So kids are going to want to get up and play and explore and see what there is going what else there is going on in the room. And so allowing them to do that within a little bit of boundaries. Because I know that, you know, a lot of times correctional facilities don’t allow children to kind of get up and explore their space. But just knowing that that’s, that’s normative child behavior, and that’s part of their development is to kind of check things out. And so just acknowledge that that’s normal, that they’re going to get up and kind of explore, and also realizing that the check in process or the security process at correctional facilities can be really stressful and frustrating for both children and the caregivers that are bringing the children in for visits. And so I think one really great thing to keep in mind here is to allow the child to express their frustrations or allow the caregiver to say, Gosh, that was really, that was a really hard experience. We, you know, we were asked to do this, this that the other thing, and this is how I feel, try not to maybe dwell on that experience and kind of keep it moving, but allow them to communicate that with you, because that’s a real experience. And I think that that’s normative and I think that that’s really part of the process of visitation and that they can hope be open with you and talk about their frustrations or perhaps even the good experience that they have in the ease of coming into the correctional facility, but allowing them to express to you what that process process was like for them and your child.

Dad 1
She has been learning to read a lot better on her own. So she’s reading me this book while I’m on this on a visit, reading me this book and she got the book, like the back of the book turn shows me like, the cover of the book turn toward me and she’s reading the book. So my mom’s in there. And I’m like, she’s, I’m just thinking, like, she’s just reading like, the what the pictures look like. She’s reading the book, word for word front to back. My mom like, Okay, I did do a good job when like, it hurt me so much like, wow, I haven’t. I’m missed, you know, some time in her life, you know that, like she’s actually been able to, you know, to, like, learn how to read, but makes me so proud.

Roxy Etta
What do you think about saying goodbye? I’m sure that that could be very challenging, stressful for children, not only children, but for dad as well. Yes. Do you have any advice on navigating that?

Hilary Cuthrell
Yes. So goodbyes are really difficult as much what we call foreshadowing. And so it what I mean by foreshadowing is essentially providing an alert, a warning or communication to a child that something is about to happen. So this is as simple as in, you know what our visit is almost over, we’ve got a couple more minutes to talk and then I’m going to have to go back and you and Mommy or whoever, Grandma, you guys are going to leave. And that isn’t telling them at the last second, that’s kind of giving them a couple of warnings, and you’re foreshadowing for them what’s about to happen. And so especially for young kids, it’s important to say, oh my gosh, you know, our visits almost over let’s kind of, let’s do our routine, maybe we sing our song, we wave goodbye, we do our last kind of things that we we need to do, we kind of wrap up, because the abrupt goodbyes tend to be the most sort of devastating for young children and confusing goodbyes are never easy, especially for children, but also for incarcerated parents. And so I would encourage incarcerated fathers to think about some of the things that they can do in terms of self care going back to their housing unit. So maybe that is talking to someone in the housing unit or your pod that you are comfortable talking about with your family matters and situations with maybe that is going back and reading a book or working on something independently, whatever works best for you just really think about what sort of self care looks like, because not all visits are perfect. Not all visits are, you know, not all visits are sort of sort of meet the expectations that you might have. And then also, when you have a really, really good visit that can be also triggering as well, because you know, you may miss your family or be uncertain of when you’re going to have that another good visit.

Roxy Etta
I realized that we’ve kind of talked a lot about what challenges and stressors are and potential negatives. And I think that it would be great if we could just for like, a minute or two, talk about the positives of this seituation like what is to be gained out of a visit with your child.

Hilary Cuthrell
Yeah, there’s so much to be gained. Children just want to check in with you and make sure that you’re safe and that you’re secure. And you’re still the dad that they know you to be. If you present yourself as the Father that your child knows and loves, then you can’t go wrong. And children are excited to see their family. At the end of the day, children, they just want to visit with their with their parents, they want to know that their parent is safe. They want to communicate and continue that that bond or that relationship. Just putting it out there that your child is in your thoughts. And they’re a part of your every day. I think at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important, and not focusing on the obstacles, the hurdles, the hurdles and the frustrations, but really just focusing on what you can control and how you can contribute to your child’s life is kind of where you should just try to set yourself and your expectations and it’s really hard. It’s really, really, really hard. But I think that it’s it’s a good sort of mindful way to sort of practice staying engaged in your child’s life as best you can.

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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