One of our greatest roles as parents is to guide our children to honour, trust and cherish their body wisdom.
This is especially true in the world we live in where often the thinking mind has been prioritised over the knowing of our bodies in our culture.
So many of us have been conditioned over a lifetime to not listen to our bodies and honour our intuition.
As we come back home to our own bodies, we can model this intention of deep trust in body wisdom in everyday interactions with our children.
By guiding our children to go inwards, and supporting them to be able to stay connected to their bodies whilst they feel comfortable and uncomfortable sensations, we are helping to nurture their healthy nervous system regulation.
8 ways we can support our children to connect to their bodies include:
1. Teaching Our Children to Trust Their Felt Sense
This begins with talking to our babies to let them know we are about to change their nappies and attuning to their eye gaze as to when they would like to engage in connection or not engage.
It begins with allowing our children to trust their body sensations and felt sense around everyday moments: whether they want to hug or kiss a relative, eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full, and what they notice in their bodies when they feel nervous or scared.
Every time we attune and empathise to our child’s inner experience and respond to their needs, we use our mirror neurons to mirror their felt sense state. We emanate to them a deep sense that they can trust their bodies and that the sensations that they feel are valid. This is the essence of John Bowlby’s attachment theory: that by responding deeply to our child’s needs and we allow them to feel deeply known and understood in our hearts. Every time we validate their inner experience through empathy and deeply see them, we are building their empowered sense of self.
2. Inviting Children to Learn the Language of Sensations
We can teach our children about the language of sensations by playing games that help them to learn words to describe how they feel on the inside. These include:
- Having a sensation chest filled with items of different textures. Ask your child to wear a blindfold and try to guess what the object is.
- Naming your own sensations throughout the day and inviting your child to name theirs.
- When your child is talking about big emotions they are feeling, ask them where they feel that on the inside. You can provide a menu of sensations to help them build their own, such as tingling, tight, warm or flowing. Ask if this sensation has a colour, shape, texture or temperature.
- Metaphors are a wonderful way for children to capture their inner sensations, such as butterflies dancing in their tummy or heart galloping.
3. Normalising Bodily Functions
We can let our children know that it is okay to follow their biological impulses, such as passing wind, burping, going to the bathroom when they need to and eating when they are hungry. We need to normalise these normal bodily functions so that they grow up to be adults who understand their body impulses without inhibition. This is especially important because of the cultural messages around suppression of natural bodily functions, and the overriding of biological impulses that is taught to children in the school system, such as being told when they can go to the toilet.
4. Honouring Our Child’s No
Guiding our children to listen to their body sensations is so essential to teaching them to be able to say no if someone is touching their bodies in appropriately. We teach them to be empowered and to trust their intuition around what feels okay and what does not feel okay. We must talk to them about what kind of touch feels nice in their bodies and what kind does not, and how to listen to that knowing, and how to say no.
Honouring our child’s no is a vital part of our children learning how to have healthy body boundaries. And honouring and expressing our own body boundaries provides healthy modelling of embodiment to our children.
5. Inviting Our Child to Notice Where they Feel Safety and Joy Inside
Just as we invite our child to notice where they feel their uncomfortable sensations inside, it is important to invite our child to notice where they feel safety, joy and celebration inside. Psyhologist Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, talks about learning to take in the good, and to rewire our brain’s negativity bias to be able to really savour the good in life when it arises. We can teach our children to really allow these pleasant sensations to land in their body to anchor these as a felt sense inside. For example, when your child is snuggling in for a cuddle with you, we can pause to ask “where do you notice that safety on the inside?”. We can ask them if that sensation has a colour, a shape or an image. This is such a powerful invitation for them to learn to be able to be with pleasant sensations. It helps guide our child to learn to notice in their body what safety feels like.
6. Honouring Our Child’s Intuition
It is so important to honour our child’s inner knowing when they sense that we have emotions inside of us. For example, if your child asks you if you are feeling sad, it’s essential to answer honestly, saying something like “I am feeling some sadness right now and I’m taking care of myself so that you don’t need to worry about me”. This acknowledgment of their inner knowing will allow their body to relax and for them not to take responsibility for our emotions. We don’t need to tell our children all the things that we are feeling sad about. However, we can honour their felt sense in their bodies of what they are feeling within us. It is deeply confusing for a child when a parent responds by saying that they are not feeling sad.
7. Helping Our Child Learn Where They End and Where Others Begin
Making space to validate each family member’s internal experience, even when they are vastly different, is such a powerful and important practice. We learn to honour one another and to honour ourselves. And we teach our children about differentiation – which means knowing where they end and where another person begins.
That is an essential life skill that will help them in every interpersonal relationship throughout the rest of their lives. It requires that we keep doing our own inner work and getting clear on our own sense of where we end and the other person begins.
Knowing that it is okay to honour their personal space gives a child an inoculation as they move through the world and grow up.
8. Guiding Kids To Use the Body as a Tool for Decision Making
We can also teach our children to listen to their body knowing when navigating decisions. Tuning into their body felt sense can become a part of how they learn to listen to and trust what they feel on the inside.
This week, my children wanted to buy a larger fish tank. They found a second hand one and went to pick it up with their Dad. The person also gave them some tropical fish when they were there. They returned home, they were excited to do some research on these beautiful fish.
My son started to become stressed when he found out the fish would need a tank three times the size. He decided that he would spend all his birthday money, pocket money that he had saved, as well as his Christmas present on the fish tank. My daughter also wanted to put her Christmas money towards the new tank. Yet, another part of her really wanted to put other presents on her Christmas wish list and not the tank.
I could feel this whole decision was weighing heavily in their bodies as they both have a deep loved for animals. So, I slowed things down, and we had a family discussion around what they were noticing in their bodies when they thought of getting the fish tank for their Christmas present.
Both my son and daughter shared that they noticed the places in their body that felt tight thinking about this. We then talked about how we can turn to our body to guide us when making decisions. That our bodies will show us what choices we are open to and which one’s cause more of a contraction in the body. Our bodies never lie. We also talked about how this decision had seemed like paddling upstream.
I then shared how there were so many ways to meet our needs. For example, the need of finding a safe and appropriate tank environment for our fish friends could be met by a variety of different strategies. I floated the possibility of finding a home which already and a giant tropical tank set up. And how that would free us up to be able to choose the right fish for our tank.
They decided that it felt better in their bodies to give the fish to a new home. I asked them to check into their bodies and they noticed the lightness and relief in their stomach. Yesterday, when we gave the fish to their new owner, I noticed how much lighter they were feeling in their energy. They were so excited to receive the picture of the fish in their new tank this afternoon. Today, driving home from choosing our new fish for the tank, my son commented “This feels so different in my body mum. I don’t feel the stress like I did when we had the other fish. I feel really relaxed and happy”.
It is so important that we use our everyday parenting moments as opportunities to help guide our children to go within. To guide them to notice what they feel on the inside so that they can learn to trust deeply in their body wisdom and intuition.
This is the most essential compass that they will ever have to navigate the ups and downs of life. We want them to practice learning to tune in and listen to their felt sense.
Because this felt sense is their radar to what feels okay and what does not feel okay, especially as they move through the teenage years.
The more we are embodied, the more we are able to model to them our own decision-making process and pausing to slow down and listen to our bodies, and this becomes a way of being that they can internalise. We need to be connected to our own bodies to raise children that are deeply connected to theirs.
Our children learn that they can feel both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions and sensations and stay connected to their bodies. The world needs children and adults who are able to stay deeply connected to themselves.