Pediatric Massage for Healthy Childhood Development

By Tina Allen , LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT

Pediatric Massage for Healthy Childhood Development


"Mommy, my tummy hurts!" This is commonly heard in many households throughout North America everyday. Childhood abdominal pain has many different characteristics and can be dull, sharp or feel like cramping. Recurrent abdominal pain in children is one of the most common physical complaints heard by pediatricians. However, only about one in twenty is found to have a physical explanation for the symptoms. Pediatricians judge severity based on whether children stop playing or not, and how their eating and bowel habits change. There are many different causes of tummy aches, but the most common include dietary, overeating, common illness/flu, anxiety, stress, over scheduling and psychosomatic causes.

Parents have a variety of options to address their child's stomach aches and many find themselves waiting in an emergency room in the middle of the night trying to find out the cause. While a trip to the hospital is valid when you have a major health concern, pediatric massage can be very beneficial in many cases, and let's them skip the trip to ER.

About Pediatric Massage

When we speak about pediatric massage, one of the first thoughts is that this may be a modality utilized for children with special healthcare needs, in a hospital or other healthcare setting. As much as pediatric massage can be safely applied for many childhood diagnoses, pediatric massage isn't only applicable for involved medical conditions. There are many common discomforts associated with childhood that can be addressed by the use of nurturing touch. Research suggests pediatric massage therapy can help children to sleep better, enhance their body image and calm their behavior.

Nurturing touch is essential in promoting physiological, neurological and psychological development and function, and meets the need for tactile stimulation. Touch therapy may provide comfort, relaxation, reduction of stress hormones and relief from chronic conditions such as asthma, nausea, constipation, headaches, muscle aches and growing pains. Many children who receive massage therapy may also experience additional benefits including enhanced pulmonary and immune function, enhanced body image, increased bonding and attachment, healthy sense of boundaries and an overall sense of well being.

Children have different physical, emotional and developmental needs than adults, which is why children's massage is specially designed to address individual childhood considerations. Massage can also be useful in targeting discomforts specific to children and can be very helpful in easing common aches and pains associated with sinus and chest congestion, stomach aches, eye fatigue and ear aches.

Connecting with Children

Massage is adapted for each individual child client on a specific case-by-case basis. With each child, it is important to build a rapport and trust in your professional relationship. You will practice and learn to ask permission effectively and understand both verbal and non verbal cues. Having the child's permission prior to beginning massage establishes respect and understanding of the benefits of healthy touch.

Each child needs to know they can trust you and that you will listen to their requests. Learn how to explain massage to children in age appropriate language. By learning to appropriately ask permission prior to massage, you'll encourage children to develop healthy boundaries and become more secure as they grow older. It is very empowering for a child to have the ability to direct their therapeutic session, and at times even refuse it. Once they trust you, they can relax and just feel the many benefits of the massage.

When introducing nurturing touch to children, it may be beneficial to use names for massage strokes that children can relate to. Use words that may help to describe feelings associated with tactile stimulation such as hugs, rain and marching. You may use the technical names for your massage techniques, but this may be more confusing to children. Using language they understand makes communication much easier and more effective.

Finding a Comfortable Setting

Providing touch therapy for healthy children may not mean working in a hospital or healthcare environment, but rather in your own private practice. Many massage therapists work in their private setting and so, considering adding pediatric massage to this practice makes perfect sense.

You should consider setting up your practice to be more inviting to child clients. With some adjustments, most private practices can be excellent settings for pediatric massage. Consider if the room is inviting to children and offers some different options for where to receive the massage session. Many children do not wish to lie on a massage table, but would rather sit in a chair, on a mat on the floor or, on occasion, hide under your table. Either way, finding the best way to make your client comfortable is key.

Some children may feel more comfortable if you make a house call. This could involve packing up a therapy mat or table, some tactile toys and linens. However, look at this as an adventure is not only your learning to connect, but teaching a child that their comfort is to be respected. When working with children, we are now establishing life long clients for the future.