Massage is beneficial for both adults and children by helping address a myriad of health concerns common to highly sensitive people. My hope with this article is to introduce pediatric massage and the myriad ways it can help your child feel better and empower you as a parent. I know that for myself, massage has been crucial to addressing chronic health conditions that have been present since early childhood and I wish my parents had access to the information we have now on pediatric massage, trauma, and high sensitivity.
As a highly sensitive massage therapist, I understand from both academic training and personal experience the importance of massage for highly sensitive people. Healing touch can provide calming and grounding sensations, creating a felt sense of safety. It is very helpful with anxiety, connective tissue issues, pelvic issues, digestive issues, and nervous system issues all of which are common issues that highly sensitive people often have.*
The benefits of massage for highly sensitive children
Massage therapy isn’t just for adults- it is also very helpful for highly sensitive kids. Children do not have a lifetime of skills to help them cope with an overwhelming world. They also have very little control over their daily environments.
Children with sensitive nervous systems need more help learning how to regulate emotions, organize their emotions, tolerate difficult stimuli, and self soothe. They also struggle with similar health problems as adults such as anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, and sleep issues.** Massage therapy is well suited to helping with all these things.
Massage reduces the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine and increases levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. “Massage therapy is a noninvasive intervention that may regulate stress-induced autonomic nervous system dysfunction by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and decreasing sympathetic nervous system responses; therefore, acting toward homeostasis.” (Allen 34T)***
Massage can relieve stress, anxiety, and fear, while improving mood, self-image and trust and can be empowering because the child decides when, how, or even if they will receive massage. No one responds well to having their bodily autonomy trampled but for highly sensitive individuals- who are already more emotionally attuned and sensitive- being forced to give hugs or to tolerate unwanted touch is more upsetting for their nervous systems. The benefits of massage only occur with consent thus massage provides a good opportunity to both learn and practice healthy consent.
The benefits aren’t just physical
Massage can also help with body awareness and boundaries, improve social interaction and behavior, improve the ability to self-regulate and self-soothe, reduce depression, decrease tactile aversion and increase feelings of self-worth and value of self.
Finally, behavioral and physiological functions in children appear to be enhanced by massage therapy. This includes reduced heart rate and blood pressure, healthy growth and development, sleep (helps with nightmares, insomnia, not wanting to go to sleep), attentiveness, and immune function, as well as reduced pain, stress and anxiety.
When parents learn massage, this can help reinforce the parent/child bond and empower the parents with techniques they can use to actively participate in their child’s care while alleviating some of their child’s discomfort.
Massage can also provide a time to emotionally check in with your child. Part of learning how to massage is learning how to be present and help those experiencing an emotional release or a big emotion- two skill sets especially important for parents of highly sensitive kids.
Our culture moves at a fast loud pace and has little patience for stillness and quiet. Massaging your child, even for a few minutes, in an environment that feels safe to them can provide a moment of calm that allows emotions to come forth.
A new way to bond
Few individuals respond well to being sat down and grilled about their emotional state. This is especially true for those who have been told their entire lives that they are too emotional or too sensitive. Many HSP’s learn early that they should stuff all their big feelings deep inside themselves because it is too much. However, what is repressed never goes away and can make you sick.
Our bodies remember what the mind forgets and during a massage, feelings long held in the body might be released which is why it is not unusual for people to want to talk during a massage or to suddenly start speaking or to shake/twitch. Massage and other body based modalities such as somatic experiencing can help move trauma and stuck feelings out of the body leading to improvements in behavior, mood, sleep, nervous system functioning, and digestive system functioning* Through massage, parents can not only emotionally connect to their children but also give them a safe space to feel their feelings and to help them not be afraid of their emotions.
Quote taken from the Touch Therapy for Liddle Kidz Trauma Manual by Tina Allen
**Our bodies are masterful at letting us know when we have had as much stress as we can take. If your HSC starts complaining about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches then listen. Whilst they may not have a virus or sickness as such, what they feel is real. Their bodies are not coping and physical ailments that disappear quickly are a telltale sign of feeling overwhelmed. Some children even get an unexplained fever, particularly towards the end of a school week. Give them the time and space to recover. The overwhelm is real. happysensitivekids.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/6-signs-your-highly-sensitive-child-is-overwhelmed-aka-their-bucket-is-full/
*** The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the freeze, flight, or fight response. It is what prepares the body for intense physical activity such as suddenly running when a lion jumps out of the bush. The parasympathetic nervous system is what inhibits or slows down many high-energy functions and relaxes the body (it’s the rest-and-digest response). Ideally, after the threat has passed, the body is able to return to a relaxed state but with trauma the nervous system can get stuck and needs help returning to homoeostasis.
This article was originally written for Sensitivity Uncensored