Indian Head Massage for Children

Indian Head Massage is a wonderful therapy to share with all ages – from young children to elderly people. One of our Indian Head Massage Diploma graduates, Tia Tamblyn, has a wealth of experience with Indian Head Massage for children. Tia Tamblyn answers common questions about how to adapt this popular therapy for young people.



Photo: John Hersey Holds in the World

When can you start sharing Indian Head Massage with children?

Techniques drawn from Indian Head Massage (IHM) can be used with even the youngest children – albeit adapted to ensure they are very gentle. They can be given while the baby is lying down or held in arms.  This would include gentle stroking and rubbing techniques, nothing firm or tapotement strokes.

I have used massage with all three of my children from when they were young babies, and I love that they continue to respond so positively to nurturing touch.

In terms of more formal or structured massage, I find that from about 4 years old, children are able to enjoy taking part in one of my Family Head Massage workshops, where parents work with their children to share techniques drawn from Indian Head Massage.

+++ If you are a therapist working with children always follow the Code of Conduct and Professional Practice of your professional organisation which includes: having an enhanced DBS Certificate in place, gaining parental consent and having a parent present at all times.+++

Photo by John Hersey

By about 4 years old, they are able to be calm and still for a longer period, especially within a space shared with other parents and children.

I have sometimes worked with younger children one-to-one when using the massage couch and have found that children love to lie on it, peek through the hole and we play some games to orientate and relax them on the couch before beginning any massage! This is always done with their parent present, often sharing techniques with the parent that they can then use at home.

What are the key benefits for Indian Head Massage for children?

I am always bowled over by how quickly and deeply IHM is able to calm children, helping them to relax and exist in a quiet space – which can be quite rare for some children in today’s busy and distracted world.

Experiencing positive touch – whilst also learning boundaries that exist with touch – can be wonderfully healing for children as for adults.

There is the opportunity to help children connect with their breath, and share techniques and mindful activities which they can then utilise themselves if they are experiencing stressful situations.

There is also the message that is given to the child: you are important, you are valued.

When a parent is working with their child, there is a strong undertone in the message that can be conveyed around dedicating the time to give a soothing massage to a child. My children love talking about which strokes they enjoy most and least, and love to feel that the massage has been adapted specifically for them.

How would you adapt the session?

An IHM treatment might well be shorter than a typical IHM – usually around 15 mins is enough for a four to seven year old. But be prepared to go for less time, or possibly more if they are really enjoying it or with the second or third treatment, once they know what to expect.

Children over seven years old often love a 30 minute session. But again, this needs to be flexible, and the same child will not necessarily feel comfortable with the same length of massage each time. You need to be very prepared to tune into their needs with each session.

In general, it’s a good idea to aim for lighter touch although my young children like some IHM strokes just as firmly as most grown-ups do. They will ask me to increase the depth of strokes if I’m not working hard enough!  It’s certainly a good idea to begin gently though, and make sure there is a very open dialogue during, as well as after, the session to check in with their preferences.

Photo by John Hersey

What is the most comfortable position?

I have found the most nurturing and comfortable position is for me to sit cross-legged, supported by cushions below my sit bones and on a yoga mat. I place a couple of cushions on my lap and the child lays out on the yoga mat with head on the cushions in my lap, then wrapped in a blanket. This is a lovely, cosy position for a child which also gives the message that they can relax and switch off.

Some IHM techniques would need to be adapted or left out when a child is lying supine, but the head can still be moved to each side.  I do also like giving IHM’s in a seated position as with adults, however I’ve found this works better as children get older (age 6+) especially for any prolonged length of time.

When is a good time of day/evening to give IHM?

Evening is always a wonderful time to give IHM, signalling the calming and relaxing at the end of the day and especially in combination with a Story Massage at bedtime.  That said, it’s lovely to give and receive at any time of day, and can help to calm the rhythm and tempo of the day with children.

Also remember that you don’t have to give a full IHM each time, with my own children I enjoy using just a few IHM strokes when there is a chance with individual children through the day.


What are best oils to use? Do you need oil?

When I run my Family Head Massage workshops – where children lie with their head supported by cushions on their parent/carer’s lap – we don’t use any oils. However, if I’m giving a seated IHM, or using IHM techniques on the couch then I would use a plain carrier oil having checked in with the parent/carer for any allergies.  I use essential oils in a diffuser, and children often enjoy smelling various scents, thinking about how they make them feel then selecting them for use in the diffuser.

Do you have any other tips?

It’s a good idea to explain the full IHM process before beginning – what you are going to do, what is expected of them (lying? sitting?  Eyes open/closed? and that it’s ok for them to move around/ask questions etc), what it might feel like, which areas you are going to treat, how long it will last for and when it will end – as it’s easy to make assumptions about what they know and expect.

Give plenty of space for questions before, and try to ensure there is an open dialogue so they feel comfortable letting you know their preferences for example with the depth of your touch, or strokes that they do and don’t like.  In my experience children are very happy to give their views, so I tend to ask a lot more often especially at the beginning of a treatment, in order that they feel comfortable telling me how they feel.

Photo by John Hersey

Don’t feel restricted to being too formal with Indian Head Massage for children: go outdoors on a lovely day – set up a blanket or chair amongst long grasses and tune into the sounds of nature; say poems or stories together as you massage; show children how to work with each other (with appropriate boundaries); invite children to make up their own IHM techniques and share them with you.

I find that sharing Indian Head Massage with children brings such joy to me, and it’s a huge honour to witness the connection between parents and their children as they carve out time to nurture each other during my Family Head Massage workshops.

And a note from Mary Atkinson

We hope you have found these ideas from Tia Tamblyn helpful – whether you are a therapist or a parent (or both!). And you may also be interested in my book Healing Touch for Children and my You Tube Channel Positive Touch for Children with Mary Atkinson.


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