"Every child, no matter the age, should be massaged at bedtime on a regular basis.” So says Tiffany Field, PhD, of the Touch Research Institute (TRI) in Miami, Florida. Field and her associates at TRI have worked diligently over the past decade to prove the benefits of massage for children. But this is not a new concept. Infant massage has long been a common practice in many cultures. Many indigenous tribes use some form of bodywork to soothe, relax, and heal their little ones, sometimes including scented oils and herbal remedies as part of the experience.
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, January/February 2009. Copyright 2009. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Attitudes toward touch affect us all. The way a culture understands the role of touch in human lives has a profound impact on the way its people grow, develop, and engage with their physical and social environments. Is touch a necessity or an indulgence? What impact does it have on our physical and psychological health? Is the desire for tactile contact healthy, dysfunctional, or even dangerous?
Massage therapist Tina Allen was making one of her routine hospital visits when the father of a hospitalized child approached her with a question. Allen is director of the Children’s Program for The Heart Touch Project in Los Angeles, California, a nonprofit group providing compassionate touch to local homebound and hospitalized men, women, and children. The father’s little girl was only six years old, severely injured in an auto accident, and now quadriplegic. “He recognized my Heart Touch shirt and asked if I had given his daughter a massage,” Allen says.
Sometimes the most daunting tasks are the most rewarding. Cultural barriers surrounding touch, old habits promoting unhealthy environments, a lack of resources and funds, and the overabundance of unwanted children made Vonda Jump’s work all the more difficult. A Utah State University research associate in the College of Education, Jump didn’t mind the obstacles. In fact, they made her more determined to discover whether or not touch could change a child’s life. Her research subjects: The children of Ecuador’s orphanages.
A parent’s touch holds great power. The soothing massage of a mother’s hand can calm a fussy infant. A child’s fevered brow may be cooled by the gentle stroke of her father’s palm. And in too many unfortunate cases, a child may be physically hurt and abused by a striking blow from his parent. A natural conduit for emotions, touch or the lack thereof transmits important information about the parent/child bond, whether one of acceptance or rejection.