Into the Future: Massaging the Older Child
As a child grows up, their response to massage will change. It is important for you to adapt to this and go with the flow, as flexibility is required to cater to each individual’s development. Children are kinesthetic learners until the age of about 12, therefore touch is a very important aspect of their learning and communication.
Active Crawlers: This can be one of the most challenging stages in which to massage. Many a parent, having completed a Baby Massage course will sadly stop massaging their child as soon as they hit the point of crawling, and this is a great shame. A crawling-stage baby is rarely inspired to stay still for long, so you simply have to become more creative. Games, rhymes, stories and songs will help you to keep your crawler interested. Let go of the routine and massage whichever part you can comfortably, eg an outstretched leg and foot on the bus. After the bath you could sing “Here comes the Bunny – hoppity hop” as you gently hop on a body part and massage at the same time. Be adventurous and have fun – above all, try to maintain frequent physical contact with your little one.
Toddlers: Your child is discovering the world and a new sense of independence. Massage is something else for them to say no to, even though they might actually want it. Don’t be discouraged – respect their decision and wait for the right time. A toddler won’t sit still for long so offer massage during quiet moments, eg reading a story at bedtime or having a cuddle. Use massage to tell a story, eg “then the horse went up to the top of the hill” (finger walk up their back) “and ate the lovely grass at the top” (ruffle the hair gently). It is wise from this age to start asking permission by giving a choice ie: which part shall we massage first, your leg or your arm? Don’t give up if they say no, try again another day.
Pre-School Children: Your child should settle down and enjoy massage again for longer periods and in a more peaceful way after the “Terrible Twos”. Massage after a bath or at bedtime can be great, particularly if they are experiencing growing pains. Gently massage each body part, telling a story and naming each part properly so that they learn words they might not yet have picked up, such as elbow, thigh, wrist or ankle. Some kids love it if you use a toy car / toy to go up and down their limbs. Adapt your strokes to their growing body and do what feels natural, whilst listening to their needs NB: they often want to just feel like a baby again and want to be held tight at the end of a long day ‘being three’.
School-Aged Children: Music and story-telling are great ways to introduce massage for this age-group. Massage can provide a wonderful space for your child to talk about what they may be feeling, particularly if you fall silent for a bit and let them fill the space with their thoughts, without jumping in and trying to direct the conversation. Many children this age prefer to lay face down rather than face up during massage, that’s OK, let them. You will probably also need to adapt your strokes to your child’s lengthening limbs; eg kneading the calf-muscle rather than squeezing the whole leg.
Adolescence: An unpredictable and sensitive time, you will need to be patient and adaptive – there are hormones kicking in and mood swings to dodge, but massage can be a great tool for easing stress and helping them accept their changing bodies. Simply ask “Would you like a back rub?” when they are watching TV, or if they complain of growing pains “Would you like me to massage your leg?”. You’d be surprised how often a teen who was expressing great annoyance just a minute ago will accept a shoulder rub. This is a time when sexuality and body-boundaries need to be acknowledged however, so stay away from body parts associated with sexuality and respect their modesty eg: by showing them on your own body first eg “I could massage ‘this’ section of your leg, which should help with the aching from the long-distance run you did at school” or maybe suggest massaging them through their clothes. Communication can often be difficult at this time, but positive touch is an instinctive and natural language we all speak and can understand.
Massage enhances communication with your child throughout their childhood. It builds trust and body awareness, and positive comments eg “You’re getting strong leg muscles from all that sport!” help build self-esteem. The most important thing is to respect your child’s changing needs and to create a safe place by your side for retreat and comfort if they need it. Some massage is better than no massage, so be flexible, listen and have fun.