After I titled a preschool’s zoom session “Respect, Boundaries and Prison Etiquette: Supporting your Child(ren) without Losing Your F’ing Mind”  I realized that this topic – Prison Etiquette and Baby Parenting, was not only timely, but worthy.  

Prison is awful, and our system of mass incarceration is messed up – I recognize that, and I mean no disrespect towards the locked up or those who guard them.  But now, as always, our focus turns towards parents – and connecting the unwritten rules of prison behavior to toddler parenting is not as much of a stretch as it might seem at first.

Prison, for first time inmates, is a scary place – totally new, with surprising hidden rules, crowded with unpredictable characters.    Who you were on the outside is no help.  Prison is a world where your former wealth and position, and the way you used to solve problems, may actually hurt you more than they help you.   It’s a world where people are watching you and reading you constantly, looking for missteps, and weaknesses to exploit.  Sound familiar?

While some of the advice I picked up in places like this [link] this [  ]and [   ] this is prison specific (where and how to sit in the mess hall, weight room politics, etc) there are some guiding rules that apply to toddler parenting:

Respect Other Inmates

This is rule #1 – and the basis for almost all other rules.

Perceived lack of respect causes misbehavior in prison.   In the family, respect creates more respect, and, just like in prison, there are as many ways to show respect as there are interactions in the day.  This blog has about 500 articles on respect in parenting, all of which you could imagine being good approaches in prison – using information, and not direction;  announcing your intention before moving;  listening first; and speaking to be understood, etc.

Here are some “Prison Etiquette Rules” that also apply to parenting infants and toddlers. 

Keep your word

If you say “I will meet you in the exercise yard at 8am,”  be there.   If you always keep your word (including, with your children, delivering consequences you’ve presented) you will be trusted, and respected.   Your reputation is all you have – make it solid.

Do your job

You have both formal and informal roles – take care of them.   Do your part for the group.  Be someone who can be counted on (and show your kids what that looks like).   If you’re solid, those around you will feel safer and more relaxed, which will make it easier for you.

Watch body language

Watch yours, and the people around you.   Most communication is non-verbal, and almost all emotional communication is non-verbal or tone of voice.  High-level soccer referees (the best parenting models ever!) are trained to respond to emotion with body language, not with words.

Observe First, then Act

When something starts to go down, slow down.   Try to understand what’s going on before you act – and especially before you react.   Let things play out a little without putting yourself out there – it’s better to wait a little and know more than to quickly establish a position you may regret. 

As a responsible parent you want to be a good person, and stay out of jail – but if you end up doing hard time in the big house, the skills you’ve developed as a responsive and thoughtful toddler parent will serve you well behind bars, as they will anywhere.