The importance of nurturing touch for children was the theme of my Keynote speech at camexpo 2011. The talk based on research for my book Healing Touch for ChildrenÂ and my new one day training course Positive Touch for Children.
Â Positive Touch for Children
It is not easy being a child in the 21st Century. Our young people are so often bombarded from a tender age with physical and mental stresses, competitive pressures and high expectations from home, schools and peers. And in a society driven by computers, televisions, mobile phones and other high tech communication, where is the space for children to find calm and stillness? As therapists, we know the value of this inner peace that connects us with ourselves, with others and with the natural world around us.
Finding a Quiet Space
Â It is my belief that positive touch through gentle massage and reflexology has the power to encourage children to discover a quiet and healing place within themselves that can help them cope better with the anxiety and stress that is leading to many health and behaviour problems today.
And as therapists we can play a vital role by encouraging our clients to support their own children through touch in the home. Since my book Healing Touch for Children â€“ Massage, Reflexology and Acupressure for 4-12 year olds was published in 2009, I have been privileged to hear stories from parents, therapists and children about their own personal experiences of the far reaching benefits of Â massage and reflexology techniques.
Benefits of Massage for Children
- One mother told me that since giving her eight year old son the regular five minute massage suggested in Healing Touch for Children, he no longer suffered pre-school tummy aches.
- And another said her ten year old daughter was now sleeping through the night, untroubled by nightmares.
- A six year old told me that he liked to massage his friendsâ€™ backs because it made them feel happy and that made him feel happy too.
- In a review on Amazon, a mother of a child with ADHD said that the simple reflexology moves from the book were helping make bedtimes more peaceful for the whole family.
- And this will make you smile – one young girl said she was now able to get rid of Daddyâ€™s headaches when he came home from work!
Learning from other cultures
In a society where touch is no longer considered the norm, surely it is vital to re-establish the importance of sharing nurturing touch within the home not only for the health and happiness of our own children but for future generations and society as a whole. In many cultures, touch and massage has been an integral part of family life for generations.
In India, mothers massage their babies from birth, then when they reach three or four years old, they are given a weekly head massage. By the age of six or seven, children are sharing regular head massages with their parents and grandparents. Children are not formally taught to massage, they learn by experiencing the benefits of positive touch for themselves.
During the research for my first holistic therapy book The Art of Indian Head Massage, I spoke to many people from India who recalled sharing massages within their families when they were children and teenagers. They remember it as a special time, an opportunity for communication, for sharing worries and anxieties, for relaying stories and experiences, for â€˜bondingâ€™ within the family home. Even through particularly busy times, the regular massage slot was always honoured and appreciated as part of the family routine.
Children of all ages need to know they are special. Yet all too often we do quite literally lose â€˜touchâ€™ with our children when they reach school age and adolescence â€“ which is at a time when, possibly, they are most in need of this gentle and nourishing touch that can communicate unconditional love and respect far more effectively than words.
Do we reach out and touch?
Touch is intuitive. Think how we naturally rub a sore spot to ease the pain or offer a comforting stroke on the shoulder or back to provide reassurance in difficult times. But do we reach out and touch each other enough during the daily course of our lives? Perhaps the answer lies in some research conducted by Sidney Jourard in the 1960s into the number of times that pairs of people casually touched each other whilst chatting over a drink in a coffee shop. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, they touched each other casually around 180 times over the period of an hour. In Paris, it was 110 times. In Florida, it was only a couple of times. But in London, people did not touch each other at all.
The Massage in Schools Programme
What message are we giving to our young children? Is touch becoming so taboo that we are blocking a childâ€™s natural inclination to give and receive the healing power of touch? For Mia Elmsater, from Sweden and Sylvie Hetu from Canada, the vision of positive nurturing touch for all children, all over the world, is central to their work within the internationally respected Massage in Schools Programme. Now operating in over 17 countries, the programme was introduced into the UK in 2000 and has already made a real difference to many childrenâ€™s lives.
Children are taught a simple massage routine which they practice on each other, fully clothed in a sitting position, under the supervision of a trained adult for around 10-15 minutes in total, (thatâ€™s 5-7 minutes each child). Only the childâ€™s back, head, neck, arms and hands are massaged. A popular time for the massage session is first thing in the morning or after lunch break when children can be very active and excited. Teachers and children agree that massage promotes sensitivity towards others, raises self-esteem and confidence and brings a sense of peace and calmness into the atmosphere which helps everyone concentrate and focus on their lessons.
The Oxytocin Effect
Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a Swedish researcher and author of The Oxytocin Factor, Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing believes that the feel-good effect of touch is linked with the release of oxytocin and other mood-enhancing chemicals during gentle massage. Although research is still on-going, Kerstin suggests that this release of oxytocin into the bodies of those giving and receiving gentle touch could be one of the reasons why touch has such a positive impact on countering the detrimental effects of stress and anxiety on our physical, emotional and mental health and well-being. And some exciting developments in Kerstinâ€™s research show that those watching gentle massage also experience the feelings of peace and harmony associated with the release of oxytocin. So teachers, teaching assistants and those children not choosing to have a massage can benefit too!
An important part of the Massage in Schools Programme, which is now an integral part of the Anti-Bullying campaign, is that children learn self-respect and also respect for others. Each child asks permission from their partner to give them a massage, and then says â€˜thank youâ€™ at the end. Children have a choice and can say â€˜noâ€™ without any reprisals. In this way, they can begin to learn the difference between positive, caring touch and negative, abusive touch. Children are also taught to learn alongside their massage partner by writing letters and drawing shapes on each otherâ€™s backs, or telling a story or singing a song accompanied by creative massage movements.
Healing Touch for Children
As the Massage in Schools Programme begins to gain momentum, supported by OFSTED, an increasing number of people, including complementary therapists, teachers, teaching assistants, health professionals and community workers, are being trained on a two day instructor course, to introduce the programme to schools and child orientated community services.
Among the feedback from schools implementing the programme is that young people are enjoying taking their new-found massage skills back into the family home which in turn, has created space for parents, children and siblings to share quiet time together and facilitated self-expression, reflection and healing on many levels. This brings us back full circle to the emotional, physical and spiritual value that has been placed on massage in the home by Indian families for many generations.
Learning to Share Positive Touch for Children
Mary Atkinson, author of Healing Touch for Children, has just launched a one day training course Positive Touch for Children (FHT Accredited) aimed at sharing ways in which therapists can help parents introduce nurturing touch into their family home. The course would also be suitable for interested parents who recognise the value of positive touch for children. To find out more contact Mary on firstname.lastname@example.org