700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Why Taking Care of Your Physical Health and Mental Health Are Equally Important

Mar 25, 2024
child swinging on a swing set

We often think of “brain” and “body” as separate, which is understandable given that they are often treated separately by different types of health care teams. The reality is that mental health and physical health are deeply connected and the attention and treatment we give to one area will naturally influence our health in the other. Both are equally as important for a child’s overall health.

For example, think about how stress can lead to lost sleep. Or vice versa, how being tired can lead to changes in our mood, like feeling grumpy or acting impatient.

What Should a Parent Be Looking out For?

Parents should respond to both mental and physical health needs in the same way to ensure overall wellness.

Common physical health changes that could reflect mental health concerns.  

  • Complaints of discomfort (headaches, stomach aches)
  • Flare in a known health issue (autoimmune conditions, diabetes)
  • Sleep changes (trouble falling or staying asleep, too much or too little sleep, increased naps)
  • Changes in memory or concentration
  • Changes in appetite or eating patterns

Common mental health changes that could reflect physical health concerns.

  • Sudden or frequent mood changes
  • Unusual increase in energy and agitation
  • Big changes in ability to focus or understand things
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not actually present in the environment
  • Sudden inability to identify their age, birthday, or location

These examples should be considered with the whole child in mind. One symptom does not make a condition, and many of these things happen normally on occasion. However, if you notice changes that seem to stick around or feel out of the ordinary, it might be worth talking to your child’s pediatrician.

What Can a Parent Do?

Address concerns early. Protecting your child’s total health from an early age supports healthy development for life. Raise concerns about your child’s mental or physical health with their pediatrician as soon as possible.

Show that you take those concerns seriously. A pediatrician may want to connect you with mental health professionals or medical specialists as needed. Make sure to attend appointments, complete any additional tests or labs, and answer any questions.

Include their voice in appointments too. Children are insightful and oftentimes are also aware of a change or feeling different. Including them in the appointment lets them feel understood, and more likely to agree to any treatment recommendations. Ask your child before the appointment if there is anything they want you to ask the doctor about. Make sure they understand what the doctor is explaining or recommending during the appointment and ask them afterwards how they think things went and if they have any other questions.

Model healthy habits at home. Children learn by observing and talking with you, so demonstrating how you manage your total health is important. Practice saying out loud how you’re feeling and what you’re going to do to support yourself. For example, “I am feeling tired and mad right now. I am going to take a few belly breaths to calm down now and prioritize good sleep tonight.”

Make these healthy habits a part of your family routine. Children enjoy spending time with their loved ones. Consider making a consistent family bedtime, practice coping skills together before a big event, or go on a family walk before dinner.

Promote open communication and a safe space for children to talk. Giving children the time and space to talk and feel heard is important for promoting their mental health. Try open-ended questions or check-in rituals. For example, each family member can take turns sharing “highs and lows” of their week at dinner.

Ask your child what they need. Kids may want to share but may not always want help fixing things. Try saying, “Thank you for sharing that with me. That sounds like it has been hard for you. How can I help? Do you need me to listen, distract, or help problem-solve?”

Learn More About Children's Mental Health
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Featured Expert

Hannah Kerby
Hannah Kerby, PhD
Psychiatry and Behavioral Health

Hannah Kerby, PhD, is a part of the Pediatric Psychology Physician Team at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Jacqueline Warner, PhD
Psychiatry and Behavioral Health

Jacqueline Warner, PhD, is a part of the Pediatric Psychology Physician Team at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Lindsey Vater
Lindsey Vater, PsyD
Pediatric Psychology

Lindsey Vater, PsyD, is a part of the pediatric psychology physician team at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.