3 Tips on Helping First Responder Kids to be Resilient


Dr. Rachelle Zemlok

Part of my graduate school research included interviewing members of law enforcement families to better understand how the career of a first responder may have an impact on family members and what they found most supportive. Here are 3 suggestions that stem from my research on how to help build the resiliency of the children of first responders.

1.Go to Work with Their Parent

They found this to help ease the worry about their parent’s safety. Of course, we all build up worst case scenarios of the unknown. When we take the mystery out of things and understand them, things can seem a lot less scary. See if you can visit the department with your kids! Let them see how many safety measures and precautions are taken in a day’s work. Let them meet other officers or firefighters that work alongside their parents. Let them see all the boring aspects of work as well as the fun.

2.Find a Support System Among Other First Responder Families

First responder families have different family schedules than most. Parents miss holidays and major life events. They experience things that other families have a hard time relating to. Cop kids, especially, might get curious questions from other kids that make them feel alone and not sure how to answer. In a class of 30, they may not have any other first responder kids in it. To be around other families whose parents will miss Christmas or New Year’s, or who get called out in the middle of the night, might make a huge difference in feeling less resentful and alone overall.

3.Be Welcomed and Supported By The Department

The department is a place their parent spends so much time! Kids reported that it was nice when they felt connected to and cared for by the department. This can be hard in the Bay Area, especially, because commuting has become more and more common. If there are gatherings such as holiday parties or BBQ’s that your family can make it to this might help develop a more well rounded identity as a first responder kid.

In general, what I took from this is connection to the work and community among other first responder families can make a huge difference for first responder kids. Following my research, I started doing my best to bring our department’s families together as much as possible. We don’t wait on the department to get us together, because that doesn’t come around as much as we’d like. One of our greatest accomplishments is that we have 5-10 families that go on an annual summer camping. We’ve had this going for about 5 years in a row now. The kids get to know each other and grow up together and adults connect and have fun. We’re all busy and have plenty of people we need to spend time with. However, I know that building this community and memories with them is an ongoing priority because it’s something my kids and I will look back on as helpful for us adjusting to the life. Consider small ways you might be able to build that support and community for your family. If you’re already doing so, please share! If you’re interested in being around more first responder families stay tuned because I’ll be hosting ongoing events with first responder families in the Bay Area specifically for these reasons and can’t wait to see you there!

About Dr. Rachelle Zemlok

Dr. Rachelle Zemlok is a licensed clinical psychologist in California specializing in working with first responder families and supporting parents with children diagnosed with ADHD or pose behavioral challenges. For more information on Dr. Zemlok or to connect with her please visit her website at https://www.firstresponderfamilypsychology.com/