Massage for the Whole Family

image credit: Kevin Rawlings

Massage is an ancient parenting practice that is resurfacing today as a result of its tremendous value to both parent and child. In fact, for centuries, parents throughout the world have massaged their children every day. Indeed, most cultures embrace some form of touch interaction in their daily caregiving routine. For instance, Indian children are massaged daily. Children in Ganda, Africa are held, stroked or patted almost continuously throughout the day. Japanese mothers hold their young children so often that the word to define the holding is translated as “skinship”. This cross-cultural use of touch in childrearing suggests that touch is a universal strategy for effective parenting.

Last week we talked about fostering your baby’s development through touch. However, massage’s usefulness transcends early childhood. In fact, parents who practice massage with their children benefit from the experience as well. Few parenting techniques benefit both parent and child as powerfully as massage.

Massage researchers have explored not only the child’s response to receiving massage, but the parent’s response to giving massage as well. The results are impressive. Parents feel relaxed following a massage session with their child. Parents feel refreshed after massaging their child. Parents are less stressed following a massage episode with their child. These results are based not only on the parent’s perception but also on the stress hormone levels in their bloodstream. Parents feel more connected and understanding of their child when they incorporate massage into their family life.

Developing a Massage Routine for Your Family
Most parents rub and caress their children every day. In fact, many children request this kind of contact. How many times have you heard, “Mommy, can you rub my back?” Massage simply formalizes this style of parent/child interaction. A variety of massage methods and techniques exist but the basic aspects of a massage routine remain the same regardless of the child’s age or stage of development. A massage routine should:

  1. Occur in a warm, comfortable environment
  2. Occur only with the child’s permission (this promotes a sense of trust and security while respecting the child’s space and opinion)
  3. Follow the child’s cues (what body parts to massage, when to stop)
  4. Occur when you can relax and be present and available to your child

Different Forms of Touch
A continuum of touch exists which leads up to formal massage. This continuum includes simple, sustained hand placement (such as on the back or head), holding, gliding strokes and gentle friction. It also allows for a gradual progression of touch stimulation. These different forms of touch can be utilized to incorporate touch experiences appropriate to the situation. For instance, touch and massage can be introduced gradually into a child’s life by starting with hand placement or holding.

The gliding strokes and gentle friction of the touch continuum utilize several methods of massage. These techniques include Indian strokes, Swedish strokes, and reflexology. Teaching a child the feeling of being relaxed is also a valuable lesson.

image credit: Tim Brown

Tools and Position

Massage can occur at anytime with little to no preparation. Pure vegetable or fruit oils may or may not be utilized. The primary reason to use oil is to reduce the friction created by skin to skin contact. Positioning during massage is a personal choice. Infants can be massaged lying in front of you or cradled in your lap. Children can be massaged while lying down, sitting or in conjunction with some other activity they find enjoyable (such as reading a book).

Making Time
Some children appreciate a massage after a busy day at school. Very active children may be more receptive to a massage in the bathtub, while others may prefer a massage before bed. Some children appreciate a quiet, reflective massage while others prefer a much more interactive approach. Even the next time your child needs a hug, add a little rub. You’ll both be glad you did!

Massage can be done with or without clothing. Infants tend to prefer massage without clothing and the research regarding skin to skin contact would support this method with very young children. As children get older, they may become more modest and prefer to have a choice about their massage and their clothing. Have your child determine which feels the best to them, physically as well as emotionally. Respecting these individual differences allows your child to have power over his/her own body. This encourages a positive self-image and builds the confidence to say “NO”.

— Mary Margaret Crombez

About the Author: Mary Margaret Crombez holds a B.S. in Special Education and Early Childhood Education, a Master’s degree in Parent and Pre-School Education and a Post Graduate Certificate in Infant Mental Health.  She has been a Certified Infant Massage Instructor since 1990.  As an at-home mom, Mary appreciates work activities that allow her to remain consistently available to her family while supporting her own professional development.  Currently Mary teaches Infant Massage and the As Your Baby Grows series for Beaumont’s Prenatal and Family Education department. 

Beaumont Hospital offers Infant Massage classes at two locations. Stay tuned this week for more infant massage information and techniques.

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