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Massage Today
September, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 09

Addressing Childhood Anxiety with Pediatric Massage

By Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT

Stress and anxiety is a large part of life for children and whether its family or school issues, combating anxiety can be tricky. Fortunately, there are a number of options, including pediatric massage therapy.

Numerous studies have documented the effects of touch therapies, including the positive benefits it offers in dealing with emotional and academic anxiety.

At the heart of anxiety is worry. This is the central characteristic and causes a level of excessive concern about real or imagined situations. A child may have anxiety about a big test coming up (real), but also may be worried about what to wear to school in fear they may be teased (imagined). When worrying gets to an excessive point and begins to interfere with the child's life, treatment can become necessary. The hard part about diagnosing and treating anxiety is that it manifests itself in many different ways through behavioral, intellectual and physical reactions.

How Early Does Anxiety Begin?

Normally, anxiety presents itself around seven to nine months old, and is exhibited by "stranger anxiety," meaning the infant will become upset around new people. This "stranger anxiety" signals the child's cognitive development when children begin to discriminate among people. The next development stage happens around 12 to 18 months when children begin to exhibit separation anxiety while parents try to go to dinner or run an errand. This stage normally works itself out by the age of two. Both of these periods are important indicators that our children are developing as normal.

childhood anxiety - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark By the age of eight, children begin to shift their focus to specific, identifiable events (animals, monsters under our beds, etc.) and focus more on less specific concerns like grades or making and keeping friends. As the child begins to grow into adolescence, they begin to worry about a host of additional issues such as sexuality and moral issues, which can all lead to increased levels of anxiety.

How does Anxiety Affect Children?

So, now that we know how anxiety grows within our children, it is important to know the types of anxiety that can affect them. Separation anxiety is not limited to children 12 to 18 months old, but can be influenced by parental relationships and more commonly bullying. The child could refuse to go to school due to the bullying or a school phobia. A generalized anxiety disorder is experienced by children who may have excessive anxiety about a variety of things with no specific cause.

While commonly associated with returning soldiers, children can fall into the post-traumatic stress disorder category if they experienced a traumatic event such as domestic abuse, losing a loved one, experiencing a natural disaster or sexual assault. These events cause high levels of anxiety due to reliving the experience, as well as flashbacks.

Social phobia disorder is seen in children who have excessive fear of being in social situations like crowds or groups. Lastly, obsessive-compulsive disorder includes repetitive thoughts (obsessions), an unending desire to repeat specific acts or placing objects in the same arrangement (compulsions).

How can Pediatric Massage Help?

Massage can help facilitate one-on-one time between a parent and child fostering a relationship that will grow stronger. Starting in infancy, a parent can begin to massage their child, which forges a stronger bond and increases communication. Pediatric massage, when caregiver administered, can give you time to sit down and discuss the child's day or any anxiety they may have. Studies have shown children and adults who receive massage experience diminished anxiety during academic stress, hospital stays and other potential anxiety related events.

Just as massage can be given by parents, many pediatric massage therapists work with children experiencing anxiety. Keep in mind, that just the thought of leaving their home to come in for a massage may cause them anxiety. Pediatric massage is not meant to cause further anxiety, but our hope is that it may benefit the child by relieving some of their stress.

Pediatric Massage Tips

Before the session, decide with the parent's guidance whether the session should be in your setting or theirs. Coming to a new location can be anxiety provoking for many people. If the session will be in your environment, help prepare the child for coming to a new location by sending pictures of your setting beforehand to the parents. You can email them to the parent so they can show them to child to help make them more comfortable.

Always, as with any pediatric massage session, ask permission before you begin and check in frequently. This could include giving the child ways to communicate their likes and dislikes in a passive fashion, such as using "thumbs up" or "thumbs down."

Especially at the first session, but every time if necessary, do not ask the child to disrobe to their comfort level. Body image and concern of "what others will think of me" are often causes of anxiety. There is no reason that massage must be performed skin-to-skin. Many clients benefit from a gentle touch over their T-Shirt.

Take your time with transitions and always be consistent. If possible, work together with the family to keep the same time, place and routine. Creating a consistent massage time for a child can help to create routine, stability and provide calm that just might keep anxiety at bay.


Click here for more information about Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT.

 

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