Children’s massage is always linked with a “permission process.” When used together, these practices help to reinforce respect for the child and begin to establish positive boundaries.
Permission is one of the most critical elements in massage for children.
Pediatric massage therapists, and parents trained to provide massage for their children, should always ask permission before beginning any touch therapy session for many reasons, including:
- Let the child know what is about to happen
Checking in with the child, rather than just assuming touch is okay, shows respect and gives them a choice to receive nurturing touch or not.
- Over time, the child begins to recognize this permission cue as “Massage Time” and will respond that they are ready for massage.
At no other time will you use this specific signal or cue to indicate what will happen next. This distinct permission process communicates your intention and allows the child time to evaluate their feelings before responding.
- Provides the opportunity to check in and observe their cues
Touch is our first form of communication, so it is natural to assume that communicating through touch enhances your ability to understand a child’s needs and respond appropriately.
Pediatric massage increases confidence and sensitivity to unique cues and forms of communication. By relaxing, taking time, and making eye contact, you can observe a child’s expression and non-verbal language accurately. Over time, you will become more attuned to their needs.
- A simple permission process supports healthy touch and helps establish good boundaries.
When we ask permission before providing touch during the most formative years, we reinforce the concepts of good touch versus touch that may not be seen as good or positive. A young child will carry these healthy and strong boundaries around touch with them. Not only will they know the difference between healthy touch and touch, which is considered detrimental, but they will also trust themselves and know when to request nurturing touch.
- Establishes respect between you and the child, instilling lifelong benefits including self-worth and self-esteem
When children receive attentive responses to their needs, they become healthier and more secure in adulthood. Children who learn positive views of touch and receive nurturing touch are much more likely to grow into adults with healthy self-esteem, a sense of their boundaries, and increased self-trust.
If a child is non-verbal, asking and receiving permission might appear challenging. You should still ask permission in the same manner as you would with another child. However, instead of expecting a verbal “yes” or “no,” look at the body language and cues. You will look for communication cues such as a relaxed, happy child smiling with wide-open eyes that are looking at you. You may notice their eyes and face brighten or their head gently turned towards you. If a child appears uncomfortable, grimacing, or is turning away from you, this may not be the best time to start a massage.
The need for recognizing cues is why you cannot continue massage for a child who falls asleep or begin when they are sleeping. You do not have permission. They have not indicated their desire to receive a massage. They can not tell you if it is uncomfortable or if they have any preferences. Many adults enjoy receiving massages and drifting in and out of sleep. Children, however, have different cognition and recognition. If they fall asleep during a therapy session, they could wake up confused about what is happening.
In some cases, some children would greatly benefit from massage therapy. However, as it is a new activity, they may be unsure, scared, or in pain. In such a circumstance, even if they are curled up in a ball and withdrawn, finding a way to introduce this gently may be of great value. Starting slowly and being sure you have informed the child of the massage benefits, why massage might be appropriate, and options for positioning and pressure is often helpful in establishing a connection, building rapport, and communication. We often use a tactile item to begin the touch therapy session, such as a puppet or textured therapy ball. We can also employ songs and storytelling to make the session more developmentally appropriate.
When we ask permission prior to providing any form of touch therapy during the most formative years, we reinforce the concepts of good touch versus touch that may not be seen as good or positive. As the child grows, they will carry these healthy and strong boundaries around touch with them. Not only will they know the difference between healthy touch and touch, which is considered detrimental, but they will also trust themselves and know when to request nurturing and healthy touch.