Parenting Resiliency In Our First Responder Children

coping coping skills coronavirus covid-19 first responder children first responder family mental health operational stress parenting

As First Responder Families we are in challenging times and our First Responder Children are feeling the impact. Grief, stress and anxiety are some of the main emotions I hear from our First Responder Children and our First Responder Families right now in my clinical and coaching practice.

COVID-19 has disrupted our First Responder Family’s rhythm, possibly increasing stress in our homes. The impact of their First Responder Parent working while the rest of the world self isolates can increase our First Responder Children’s anxiety. It has affected our children’s world with school closures, job loss, cancelled activities, events and travel plans they were looking forward to attending. It has interrupted the last year of our grade twelve students, delayed graduation, sports and other celebrations. These losses have naturally led to feelings of grief.

Last week we talked about regulating ourselves in the blog. This week let’s talk about co-regulation with our First Responder Children.

Our children need us to show up as regulated adults. We can not do this perfectly, but to the best of our ability.

In these challenging times of uncertainty, it’s essential we take care of our own emotional and mental health so we can be there to hold, support and help our children process what is happening around them. 

Co-regulation is being WITH our children when they are having big emotions and not acting in ways we approve, such as yelling or throwing things. It is being able to stay with our children-holding space for them with a calming presence. Responding to our children in a warm and comforting manner in the moment of their big emotions and behaviors. It means we give our children a safe place to process their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, while IN relationship with us. 

While I do not believe in time outs for children, I do believe in time outs for parents.

In Resilience Academy we discuss strategies to develop emotional literacy, our ability to understand, express and manage our emotions, in our First Responder Family. It starts with an awareness of what we are feeling, giving ourselves permission to create space to feel and process, rather than acting out on the ones we love, snapping at our children or being irritable with our spouse.

In paying attention to what we are feeling and experiencing in our bodies, we can notice when we are starting to get stressed. Signs could be breathing rapidly, holding our breath, clenching our fists, muscle tension, hot in our face or a knot in our stomach. Our body gives off signals similar to our car flashing the indicator light when we are running out of gas.

Paying attention to our stress signals empowers us to choose to take ourselves to a time out, to calm our central nervous system, before we turn into hulk mode. We can choose a calming, nurturing and soothing activity to reduce our stress such as going outside on the deck to do deep breathing in the fresh air, listening to calming music, jumping on the trampoline, chopping firewood or having a warm bath.

Right now maybe you are working from home and trying to finish a project while your littles are crawling around you, asking to play a game with you, a snack for the millionth time or fighting with their siblings.

Perhaps you feel stressed, thrown into this world of homeschooling, one you didn’t choose, feeling overwhelmed keeping up with this one more thing, on your already overflowing plate. Maybe you worry about doing it ‘right’ and your child falling behind.

Truthbomb. The most important thing your children need right now is to be in an emotionally safe home with connected, calm, loving parents. Bigger Truth. Our children can’t learn well without it and we can not perform as well at work when we are dysregulated.

It is physiologically difficult to focus, retain and learn information when we are stressed.

Unprocessed emotions of grief, stress and anxiety in our homes right now will negatively impact us and our children. Our capacity to be present with our children, to help them soothe is the greatest influence we can have on our children. It starts with us paying attention throughout the day to how we are feeling, noticing what is happening in our body and taking care of ourselves first.

As First Responder Parents, To Co-Regulate, We Need To:

  • #1 take care of ourselves
  • Notice how we are feeling throughout the day
  • Notice our body sensations
  • Write ourselves permission slips to take a time out to take care of ourselves and soothe our central nervous system.

Our First Responder Children Do Not Need Us To:

  • Give them advice they didn’t ask for.
  • Ignore them.
  • Try to talk them out of their feelings.
  • Send them away from us to their room or in a time out.
  • Worry about saying the right thing, our words are secondary.
  • Take out our emotions on them.

Our First Responder Children Need Us To:

  • Keep ourselves calm.
  • Check in with ourselves.
  • Put ourselves in time out to calm ourselves down.
  • Hold them.
  • Accompany them.
  • Look them in the eye.
  • Give them our undivided attention.
  • Inquire how they are feeling.
  • Inquire what they are noticing in their bodies.
  • Inquire what they might be thinking.
  • Have a loving, warm, soothing voice tone.
  • Display calming, inviting and engaged body language.
  • Have patience.
  • Respond rather than react.
  • Validate and empathize with their experience and feelings rather than fix.
  • Show them how to feel, process, manage emotions rather than tell them to do it.
  • Move in, hold them, love on them, especially when we think they don’t deserve it.
  • Role model, teach, coach and practice self regulation skills together as a First Responder Family.
  • *Repeat as many times necessary throughout the day with ourselves and our children

One of my all time favorite quotes is by Hank Smiths, "Thinking of a child as behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of a child as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress".

As parents we have a responsibility to self regulate before we can co regulate with our children. Our children need us to co regulate with them before they can learn to self soothe themselves.

Taking care of ourselves, emptying our stress throughout the day with stress reducing activities such as deep breathing.  We will be more likely to respond to our children when they need us. We will be more likely to stay calm so we can show up to co-regulate with our children, helping them soothe, process and manage their emotions.

"When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos",  L.R. Knost.

Oh and if you have already lost it and flipped your lid at least once today, it’s okay, we are human! Dust yourself off, take some deep breaths and try again! YOU GOT THIS!


We have the following resources available to your First Responder Family to support your family reduce the stress, grief and anxiety that might be in your home during this time:


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