By Martine Groeneveld. Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2010.
Many children love to be nurtured by their parents with a little massage. It feels good, and the attention from Mom or Dad is the icing on the cake. Massage can be a wonderful part of a bedtime or naptime routine, but also can be fun during playtime. Combined with stories, rhymes, and games, massage is a wonderful way for parents to cherish their children with loving touch and undivided attention.
A little massage goes a long way. Nurturing touch during early childhood is proven to be beneficial for healthy child development. Research has shown the benefits of massage in many different aspects.
Massage Enhances Healthy Sleep Patterns
Massage before bedtime increases the production of melatonin (a sleep hormone) at night. In a two-week study, this resulted in the adjustment of babies sleeping through the night and being active during the day sooner than babies not receiving the massage.
Massage Relieves Anxiety and Psychological Stress
Massage has shown to decrease the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in healthy and ill babies and children, and to increase the levels of dopamine and serotonin (relaxation hormones).
Massage Helps Build A Healthy Body Image
Body image is a “mental picture” a child has of his or her own body and is central to the sense of self. The foundation for a healthy body image is developed during infancy and early childhood, initially in response to the touching, holding, or tactile nurturing of the parents. A good foundation is needed to prevent future body distortions.
Massage Enhances Cognitive Performance and Relaxation
Preschool children receiving short massages twice a week during a five-week study received better ratings on mood state, speech, activity, and cooperation than those who did not receive massage. They also fell asleep faster during naptime.
Massage Fosters Bonding and Attachment Between Parent and Child
Research shows that nurturing touch is important for the bonding process. It promotes the development of positive interactions between parent and child. This includes understanding a child’s cues, reciprocal respect, secure and healthy attachments, verbal and nonverbal language development, and communication.
It’s pretty amazing to know that we can stimulate all this development with a simple and fun massage.
Tips for Massaging Your Child
To feel what kind of pressure is needed for massaging your child, do the following. Put two fingers (index and middle) on your closed eyelids and gently press on your eyeballs. You’ll feel that you can only use a bit of pressure before it feels uncomfortable. That’s the amount of pressure to use for baby and child massage.
If you’d like to use a lubricant, a cold-pressed vegetable or seed oil is best (like sunflower or grape seed oil). It’s gentle, even to the most sensitive skin, and harmless when ingested (for example, when oily hands get into the mouth).
Strokes toward the heart during the massage are considered stimulating. Strokes away from the heart are considered relaxing. A massage before bedtime, for example, could best consist of strokes away from the heart.
Never try to do a massage against your child’s will. There might be times when your child is not in the mood and dislikes the activity. Even a small child will give you cues to let you know it’s not the right moment; for example, by pulling away, crying, or looking away from you. Be sensitive to these cues. It will make your child feel respected.
Finally, let your hands be soft and loving. Do what feels good to your child and natural to you. You and your child will then be able to relax and enjoy the moment completely.