By Rebekah Frizzelle Owens, LMT, BCMT, CIMI, CPMT
“Touch seems to be as essential as sunlight ... In the absence of touching and being touched, people of all ages can sicken and grow touch starved.”
~ Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
What is the first thing you do when a child is crying? You pat his back or hug him. What about when you bang your knee on a coffee table? You rub it. When a family member is sad or upset? You give her a hug or just hold her tight. The common theme here is touch; you touch someone to make them feel better, to help them heal. Did you know that rubbing someone’s back when they are upset is a kind of therapeutic touch or an informal massage? How many of us rub or child’s back when we get him ready for bed? We are massaging him!
Therapeutic touch and massage “goes beyond the routine and bonds one human being to another” (1). It is gentle, patient, conscious, and says, “I’m here, I care, you are important to me. It is an easy, natural way to care for someone.
Research studies show that massage benefits children in a number of ways. In infants, massage is known to improve weight gain (2,3), reduce stress (4), improve respiratory function (5), decrease procedural pain (6), decrease length of stay in the hospital (7), improve sleep patterns (8,9), and improve long-range behavioral and developmental testing scores (10). Studies have also shown massage to be helpful in children with special healthcare needs by improving muscle tone (11), joint mobility (12), respiratory function (13,14), anxiety (15,16), and sleep patterns (8). Research has shown massage to be helpful in pediatric patients with asthma (14), anxiety (15,16), ADHD (17,18), arthritis (19), autism (20,21,22), burn distress (23), cancer pain (24), cerebral palsy (25,26), cystic fibrosis (27), depression (28), dermatitis (29), diabetes (30), Down Syndrome (31), HIV (32), leukemia (33) and post-traumatic stress disorder (34).
Did you know that massage can benefit the giver, too? Research has also shown that parents and caregivers who massage their children report they feel closer to the children (12,22,36), demonstrate an improved parent/child interaction (12,37), and experience reduced stress and anxiety (22,36). In addition, these parents feel empowered to provide touch therapy as part of their child’s healing process (36,37). Massage therapist Andrea Peri Rosenfield once wrote, “The immediacy of communicating with another person by touching them in a nurturing and comforting way, with one’s hands, seems to lend itself so beautifully to evoking a sense of wellbeing.” This is very evident when you massage your child – it creates a sense of wellbeing and wholeness in you, too!
There are some good resources available for giving parents tips and techniques on how to massage their children. My favorite is a book called “A Modern Day Guide to Massage for Children” by world-renown Master Teacher Tina Allen who taught me pediatric massage. I recommend it to all my friends, family members and clients for their kids and give it as a gift to new parents because it has so many wonderful massage routines and helpful tips to give great, safe massages to your children.
In addition to some of the story massages that Tina’s book offers, my son and I make up our own stories and I act them out on his back. Here are two ideas – one about superheroes and one about a princess and a dragon.
Do something great for both of you – massage your little one today!
We would like to bring pediatric massage to the children at University of Maryland Medical Center. Please help us by donating here.
About the Author: Rebeka Frizzelle Owens, LMT, BCMT, CIMI, CPMT
Rebekah Frizzelle-Owens, LMT, BCTMB, CPMT, CIMI is Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and a Maryland State Licensed Massage Therapist who has been practicing massage for over 11 years. In addition to being trained in prenatal and therapeutic massage for adults, she is a certified pediatric massage therapist (CPMT), a certified infant massage instructor (CIMI), an advanced Reiki practitioner, and has studied numerous massage modalities, including hot stone massage, Lomi Lomi, Tibetan Relaxation Massage, Isometric Muscle Balancing, acupressure, reflexology and others. She works full-time as the PR Specialist at the Center for Integrative Medicine, part of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she also lectures about massage to medical students and in the community. She sees massage clients in her private practice.
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