As parents we intuitively know our children are unique. Even so, it can be quite shocking to have two kids who are complete opposites despite their parentage! It’s a big adjustment to learn how to parent an active, loud, highly energetic child after first having a quiet, mellow, easygoing child. Each child has different strengths and challenges and will need a different type of parenting in order thrive.
One of the best ways to understand all the factors that influence the well being of our children is through the Five Element system in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The Five Elements represent a system of correspondences that we can use to understand our child’s innate way of being in the world. After thousands of years of observing the Five Elements in the earth’s ecosystem, Chinese philosophers applied the Five Elements to the individual ecosystem of our body and mind. The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.
Each Element has corresponding physical characteristics, personality traits, and ways of being in the world that shape the bodies and temperaments of our children. The Elements can be viewed as a spectrum from super high energy and activity to more easygoing and slightly lower activity (although all kids are active). This is the first step to determine your child’s Element and then you can determine how to best support her.
At one end of the spectrum we have the Wood child who is very energetic, curious and adventurous. He is active and needs physical outlets in order to manage his energy and feelings, which will enable him to stay balanced. Curiosity and a drive to figure things out often lead to constant questioning of parents and teachers. He likes to push the boundaries to challenge himself and see how firm the boundaries are with authority figures.
On the other end of the spectrum we’ll find the Water child who is very creative and is likely a deep thinker. She feels more deeply than other children and often understands emotional nuances in ways that are considered wise beyond her years. Parents may describe their water child as an "old soul." They can occupy themselves for hours in their own creative world-exploring these deeper thoughts and feelings.
On the more active side is the Fire child who is bright, vibrant and seeks lots of stimulation. She wants her parents to entertain her and play with her and also loves being surrounded by friends and family. She's a very active and engaging kid that likes constant movement. She may enjoy entertaining you by dancing and singing. She recharges by being around people and can’t wait to share every detail of her day at school as soon as she sees you!
In the middle of the spectrum is the Earth child who is friendly, outgoing and talkative but he doesn’t necessarily enjoy being in the spotlight. He is mommy's helper and is a loving child who’s very attached to Mom, Dad, Grandma and anyone else who cares for him. While your Earth child may be go with the flow, he can also get worried about his family and friends or even his pets, demonstrating reluctance to be away from them for very long.
And finally we have the Metal child who is easy going about many things, but also showing a stubborn streak. She is loving with her close relatives but shy with strangers. She thrives on routine and ritual and is particular about many things, especially foods and may be sensitive to textures and tastes. She’s active, but not as active as Fire and Wood children who keep their parents on the go all the time. Instead she enjoys a balance of activity and quiet time.
Even though we know our children are unique we still want to make sure they’re on track with their growth and development. Comparing our children to others is one way to see whether or not they’re following the “normal” curve, but it can sometimes lead to unnecessary worry.
Comparing your Metal child to your friend’s Fire child may make you wander why your child is shy around strangers. “Pathologizing” a child’s behavior at a young age has become common among adults as words like ADHD are used describe all manner of behaviors. Some parents refer to their high-energy child as hyperactive or ADHD or the shy quiet child that plays alone might be thought of as a loner and “on the spectrum,” even before any formal diagnosis is made.
While it’s important to seek medical care if you suspect your child is having issues with their growth and development, you can still reframe your child’s behavior in a positive and supportive way. Rather than view the high-energy child as hyperactive we can view him as a Wood child that needs a physical outlet for his energy. Rather than view that shy quiet child as a loner instead we can view him as a Water child that has a rich creative inner world. We can allow our children to just be who they are without labels and then we can take steps to balance their Element and bring out the best in them.
When you understand that your Water child can’t be rushed and that your Fire child gets her chores done when you make it a game life gets much easier! Trying to force our children to be something their not is painful for everyone! Instead, when we understand the innate nature of our children we begin to see patterns that allow us to understand the individual child’s needs and make subtle (but profound) changes to how we interact with and parent them. We can honor the rhythm of their body and the way they need to recharge. We can model behaviors that will support their nature. We can nurture their growth and emotional development in ways that are congruent with their Element instead of trying to turn them into something they’re not.
Our Five Element Questionnaire & Guide can help you determine your child’s dominant Element and give you general guidance how to support and bring out the best in your child. You’ll want to set aside 10 – 15 minutes to take the questionnaire so can think carefully about how your child behaves at home, school, and at social activities. You’ll be surprised how accurate the descriptions are for each Element and how easy it is to spot your child’s dominant Element type.
Our Five Element Questionnaire & Guide can help you determine your child’s dominant Element and give you general guidance how to bring out the best in your child. You’ll want to set aside 10 – 15 minutes to take the questionnaire so can think carefully about how your child behaves at home, school, and at social activities. You’ll be surprised how accurate the descriptions are for each Element and how easy it is to spot your child’s dominant Element type.
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Robin Green is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist and a leading expert in the field of pediatric acupuncture. She holds a Master’s in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the prestigious Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, CA and has over ten years clinical experience helping children heal using Chinese medicine. Her popular kids health blog, kidsloveacupuncture.com, has over 1 million visitors annually. Robin founded the Center for Acupuncture Pediatrics, which provides premier pediatric acupuncture training worldwide.