How to Teach Your Child About the Mind-Body Connection

A mother doing yoga with her daughter

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The mind-body connection is an important concept for kids to understand. Children are regularly taught about physical health and feelings. But what may often get left unexplained or unexplored with kids is the powerful link between our bodies and our brains.

Knowing what the mind-body connection is can help children (from toddlers to teens) to better understand—and achieve—physical and emotional well-being. Learn how to teach your kids about the connection between how they think and feel emotionally and how they feel in their bodies.

What Is the Mind-Body Connection?

The mind-body connection describes the idea that how you think and feel is inextricably linked to how your body feels and functions. The reverse is also true—your physical health has a profound impact on your thoughts and emotions.

This connection is at play in the way experiencing anxiety can impact how your body feels. Conversely, the way your body feels physically can impact your psychological stress levels.

For example, if you're under a deadline, feel annoyed, or are upset about something, you may get a headache or stomachache, your muscles may tighten up, you may feel tired or wired, or generally unwell.

Alternatively, if you have an illness or injury, you may feel excess stress or concern, or even become depressed or anxious. Self-care and other stress coping measures (more on this below) can be used to help mitigate this potentially harmful cycle.

On the other hand, when you're happy or excited, your body may feel energized, more coordinated, or lighter. When your body is feeling good, you're likely to feel less stress and greater contentment.

In this situation, you can use your good mood or good physical health to boost the other, in a positive self-affirming loop. In fact, studies show that people with a more positive outlook tend to enjoy better health, tolerate pain more effectively, and recover faster from injury or illness.

How the Mind-Body Connection Works

The brain is connected to the body through a complex web of neural pathways that send signals back and forth. The scientific process behind this mechanism includes chemicals that the brain produces that impact your physical health.

Examples include gamma-globin, which boosts the immune system, and endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, dulling discomfort and boosting pleasure and relaxation.

Fear, stress, and worry can also trigger the body's fight, flight, or freeze instincts, even when no true physical danger is present. This innate response to physical threats causes rapid changes in the body, such as rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and a flood of hormones (such as adrenaline) to prepare the body to deal with impending danger.

Living under a level of extreme stress or negative mindset that puts the body into a heightened state of looking for danger is associated with worse physical health.

Alternatively, studies show that having a positive, hopeful outlook contributes to many physical health benefits, including the following:

  • Better heart health, including lower risk of heart disease
  • Better sleep
  • Faster healing and better recovery from illness
  • Healthier blood sugar levels
  • Healthier body weight
  • Longer life
  • Lower blood pressure

It's challenging to know exactly how much influence a positive or negative mindset will have on physical health, but a strong association has been conclusively found. Researchers also note that good or poor physical health can boost or diminish one's positive outlook, too.

This means that a negative perspective coupled with health problems can potentially make both situations worse. Likewise, enjoying good health may contribute to a more upbeat attitude and resiliency, especially if you're already more positively minded.

How to Explain It to Kids

Explaining how the science of the mind-body connection works to kids may be most impactful if you use examples they can relate to.

For instance, if they play baseball, you can explain that the fear of getting hit may cause a batter's body to freeze up instead of swinging—or the excitement may make them swing too fast and miss the ball. A dancer might understand that a soloist might rush through their leaps or over-rotate their twirls because of anxiety or self-consciousness.

Additionally, explain that many kids experience stomachaches when faced with stressful or distressing situations. Little kids who worry about monsters under the bed or "bad guys" coming to the house may notice that their heart is racing and their body has tensed up.

Many kids may also have experienced that physical movement coping techniques like taking a walk, stretching, yoga, or deep breathing often help to regulate emotions. Plus, when they talk about their feelings or concerns, they may notice that as their emotions feel better, their body does, too.

Also, when we're scared, excited, or upset we often don't feel hungry—or we overeat. These are all examples of the mind-body connection in action.

Putting It in Practice

Let kids know that caring for the mind is just as important as taking care of the body, as both systems working in harmony is vital to their overall well-being. Once kids understand the general principle of the mind-body connection, they can begin to use it to their advantage.

Coping skills like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, asking for help, sleeping and eating well, breathing exercises, or simply hanging out with friends can help kids manage their stress levels. These relaxation practices may feel more compelling to kids when they know that they will also be positively impacting their physical health.

Kids who are familiar with how emotions affect the body (and vice versa), may also be more likely to ask for help if they are struggling with mental health issues. Knowing that physical distress may be reduced with emotional regulation and that big feelings may be alleviated with physical activity offers powerful coping skills to kids.

Children who are aware of the mind-body connection also know that mental toughness and resiliency and just as important as physical strength.

A Word From Verywell

Knowing how and why the mind-body connection works can help kids thrive. Appreciating the impact of effective coping skills and emotional regulation on their health may motivate them to engage in self-care and pay attention to their feelings.

Likewise, they can better understand the interplay of their physical health with their emotions, enabling them to feel more agency in keeping their mind and body healthy.

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