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Parenting resiliency in our first responder children

As first responder families we are in challenging times and our first responder children are feeling the impact

March 11, 2022 
By Kimberly Williamson

Making space for big feelings in our children involves parenting from a place of emotional literacy within ourselves. Photo: © pathdoc / Adobe Stock

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.

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 behaviours. 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 my online program, 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’re feeling stressed, thrown into a new world of homeschooling, one you didn’t choose, feeling overwhelmed keeping up with this one more thing added to your already overflowing plate. Maybe you worry about doing it ‘right’ and your child falling behind.

Parents need to self-regulate before being able to co-regulate with thier children. Photo: © Mat Hayward / Adobe Stock

Truth bomb: 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 cannot perform as well at work when we are dysregulated.

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

One of my all-time favourite 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.

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. If you are interested in extra support for you to meet your first responder family’s wellness and resiliency goals, the First Responder Family Wellness Center is offering individual online coaching sessions, so consider booking a free consultation at

* This is an abridged version of the article originally published on the First Responder Family Wellness Center blog. Read the full version at

Kimberly Williamson is the founder and CEO of First Responder Family Wellness Center. Contact her at

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