The Water Element

This post is an introduction to some of the key themes related to the Water Element.  Each child has all of the five Elements within her and therefore a discussion of the Water Element is relevant for every child.  However, for some children it will be more relevant than for others.  We are all born with varying innate tendencies, and each child will have areas of life in which she excels and areas she finds more challenging.  If having read this post, you feel that your child has an imbalance in their Water Element, then the suggestions at the bottom will be especially relevant for them.    

Key themes related to the Water Element

Growth and development, assessment of risk; trust; reassurance; drive and motivation; energy reserves

Factors that challenge the healthy development of the Water Element

Your child may have an imbalance in their Water Element without having experienced any of the factors described below. We are all born with an innate, constitutional imbalance in one of the Five Elements.

An atmosphere of fear or anxiety

The emotion that resonates with, and causes imbalance within, the Water Element is fear.  Growing up in an environment that induces chronic or repeated feelings of fear will mean that a child will habitually be ‘on red alert’.   A part of her is constantly under threat, waiting for the next frightening thing to happen.  Her habitual state becomes one of being on edge and she may struggle to find a sense of internal stillness.  

There are big and obvious things that induce fear in children, such as a violent parent or living in a war-torn zone.  However, because a child’s psyche is very fragile, she may perceive there to be a threat in something that most of us as adults would consider completely benign.  Although all growth involves uncertainty, and we would not want to over-protect a child from anything that may be potentially fearful, it is the presence of intense or ongoing anxiety or fear that is detrimental to the health of the Water element.  Anxiety in a child is often focused on school, health, the health of family members, exams or any new challenge that needs to be faced. 

An imbalance between rest and activity

The Water Element embodies the quality of stillness.  If the Water Element in a child is strong, she will grow up with the ability to feel still and peaceful inside, and having the ability to know when to stop and when rest is needed.  These are essential qualities that we need in order to maintain both physical and emotional health.  

In order to develop this quality of stillness internally, a child needs a balance between rest and activity.  Exactly what constitutes a good balance will vary from child to child.  Some children are constitutionally built to thrive off more activity than others.  However, if a child grows up in an environment where he and everyone around him are always on the go, it will be very hard for him to embody a quality of stillness.  A vicious cycle may ensue, where he feels agitated when he has nothing to do and he begins to crave constant stimulation.  

The qi of the Water Element fuels a child’s phenomenally fast growth and development that is characteristic of the first few years of life.  It also fuels the huge changes that go on around puberty.  If the child’s life is such that she is always on the go, and rarely just ‘being’, her qi will be expended on meeting the needs of her external life. This may mean that her physical growth and mental development suffer.

How might we recognise that the Water Element in a child is struggling?

A child may have an unusual relationship to fear

When the Water Element is compromised, a child may find it hard to have a balanced relationship with the emotion of fear and related emotions (e.g. anxiety and panic).  This may manifest in a number of ways:

  • She may have ongoing low-grade anxiety.  She may perceive the world as a place full of potential dangers, and imagine threats where there are none.  She may be fearful in situations that we would not expect or torment herself with thoughts of future catastrophes. 
  • At the other end of the spectrum, she may have an inability to assess risk to an age-appropriate level.  This may lead her to take unusually risk-taking behaviour.  These are the children whose parents you hear say ‘she has no sense of danger’, when they climb to the top of a tall tree without hesitation.  It may be an older child who seeks out activities that include an element of thrill or danger.  Although this is somewhat normal in adolescence, if this trait is particularly pronounced or has been a theme running through much of the child’s life, it might indicate an imbalance in the Water Element.  
  • A child may oscillate between the two above extremes but struggle to have what most of would perceive to be a healthy relationship to the emotion of fear.  She may be overly-fearful in some areas of her life, and lack an ability to appropriately assess risk in other areas. 

A child may struggle to find a balance between rest and activity

When the Water Element is compromised, a child may struggle to attain a good balance with being active and being restful.  This may manifest in a number of ways:

  • She may be always on ‘over-drive’ and find it very difficult to ever stop or be still.  She may have a constant, underlying agitation within her.  She may be very competitive and want to take part in everything.  She will resist being urged to rest or have ‘quiet time’. She may struggle to get off to sleep and wake up early in the morning, however tired she is.  (It is worth noting that, in Chinese medicine terms, an imbalance in the Water Element is not the only possible cause of this).
  • At the other end of the spectrum, she may be constantly lethargic, resist doing any kind of activity and lack appropriate will-power.  Her only mode is doing nothing.  She will resist being urged to get out and be active. 
  • A child may oscillate between the two above extremes.  She may have periods where she is unable to stop, and periods where she struggles to get going.  She will struggle to find a good balance somewhere in the middle where she is able to balance exerting herself and then recuperating. 

Other signs that the Water Element may be compromised

  • The child may struggle to trust others
  • The child may have a dark colour under their eyes
  • The child may be late to toilet train or prone to bedwetting

How can we help the Water Element in our children to grow strongly?

Create a safe and calm environment in the home

This will enable to a child to relax and not be ‘on red alert’.  Children are like sponges and pick up on the emotions of others who are around them.  So if we, as parents, are chronically anxious it is likely to affect our children.  Finding ways to manage our own anxiety is therefore important. 

When possible, try to choose caregivers and teachers who are solid, reliable and trustworthy

This will also help a child to feel safe and to develop confidence that the world is a safe and secure place.  On this note, it is also worth considering how much bad news we expose our children to.  Whilst it would not be appropriate to closet them from the realities of the world as they grow older, neither might it be wise for young children to have constant reminders of atrocities.  

Allow a child to develop at her own speed and in her own time

Every time we push a child to achieve something that she is not quite developmentally ready for, we are teaching her to override her innate wisdom.  Encouragement is one thing, but pressure is another.  The more we can trust our children’s potential to unfold at its own pace and in its own way, the better.  

Support a child to learn to ‘tune in’ to her body, so that she knows when she needs rest and when she has fuel in the tank

One child will need encouragement to be more active, another will need encouragement to have some downtime in her schedule.  Probably the best way to help a child in this area is to model getting a good balance in this way ourselves.  If we as parents are constantly rushing around and never taking breaks, we can only expect our children to do the same. 


Factors that hinder the healthy development of the Water Element

  • Living in a climate of fear or anxiety
  • Lack of balance between rest and activity

Signs the Water Element in a child may be struggling

  • A child is overly fearful
  • A child is especially reckless and unable to adequately assess fear
  • A child oscillates between these two extremes
  • A child finds it hard to stop and rest, and prefers to be always on the go
  • A child resists engaging with any activity and is chronically lethargic

Support for the healthy development of the Water Element may include

  • Creating a safe, calm environment in the home
  • Working to reduce our own anxiety levels
  • Choosing caregivers who are solid, reliable and trustworthy
  • Allow a child to ‘go with the flow’ and take things at her own pace whenever possible
  • Helping a child to follow her body’s signals which indicate she needs to rest or move

4 thoughts on “The Water Element

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