Often, when walking out of a massage, I feel relaxed, calm and ready to tackle the rest of my day. This is particularly the case when I’m going through a stressful period. I don’t particularly enjoy remedial or Thai massages as I find the pressure and human touch too intense. Hot stone massage or acupuncture, therefore, are better alternatives for me.
Like adults, some children enjoy the feeling of a massage and often also have specific preferences about the type of massages they enjoy. Massage is a type of deep pressure activity that accesses the proprioceptive sensory system. This system helps to organize the brain, thereby helping you understand where your body is in space, and helping you function calmly in your day. When children come into my room for therapy, I regularly start the session with a deep pressure activity and feel that the child is better able to interact with me, and participate in the rest of the session.
Massage is also a beautiful way to connect with your child. I often find that I am able to maintain eye contact for longer periods with the child and it definitely helps to increase communication, whether it is a verbal conversation or an imitation game with the body. Parents have told me that, not only do they feel that their child is able to function better in their environment after using massage, but also it is a special time to connect and just be together.
Below are my favorite massage activities that can be done at home, school, kindergarten, indoors or outdoors. Singing songs while massaging is also a great tool that can be used with all the activities below.
Arms and Legs massage – Child sits on a comfortable seat (for example a bean bag) and the adult sits across from the child. Place both hands on top of thighs and work your hands down the legs- with strong, squeezing pressure. Do the same from the shoulders and down to the fingers. Take your time when moving your hands down, and try not to loose complete touch with your child’s body.
Note: your child will tell you if you are pressing too hard and often will also show you that they are not relaxed if the touch is too light.
Pillow Sandwich- Take two pillows and put one under your child and one over them. I like to count or speak about the ingredients that I am putting into the sandwich in order to engage with the child I am working with. This activity can also be done while rolling the child into a blanket (like a sausage) or rolling a fit ball/ foam roller over your child’s body. Remember to maintain deep pressure throughout this activity.
Star ball- Get your child to lie on his/her back and help them bring their knees towards their face like they are being squeezed into a small ball. I count until 5 and then ask them to kick out their legs and arms and become a star. They usually benefit from the contrast of the passive and active deep pressure as well as the change in movement.
Note: Be sure to keep away from their feet or you’ll get kicked!
Living a sensory-enriched life is critical and essential for every single one of us, and even more important for a child with sensory differences. Sensory input, with a focus on deep pressure activities is essential for all aspects of development as well as self-regulation throughout our lives.
If it was hard work reading this blog, you’ve earned yourself a massage. If it was easy, get one anyway. They’re glorious.
Paediatric Occupational Therapist