Touch can truly have amazing effects on children of all ages!
Research shows that touch is truly fundamental to human communication bonding, and is essential to a child’s development, sense of wellbeing, and good health. Touch therapy can help children who have difficulty sleeping, reduce anxiety, and improve a child’s ability to focus and concentrate. It can also ease many physical and emotional symptoms associated with paediatric medical conditions. Babies need touch and attention to thrive. As they grow up, they continue to need regular touch and attention to become warm, caring, and independent people. Researchers at Harvard University report that “physical contact and reassurance” will make children more secure and better able to form adult relationships when they finally head out on their own. Can help reduce stress hormone levels, which in turn strengthens the immune system to help the body stay healthy and strong. What’s more, children who learn to view touch positively are more likely to grow up to be adults with healthy self-esteem, a sense of security, and proper boundaries for intimate relationships.
Touch therapy for babies
When babies come out of a warm and very cosy womb, they get bombarded by an overload of unfamiliar sensory stimulation, including the emotional energy of people around them, that they are unequipped to handle. So they react with tension and frustration by either crying or withdrawing, which is why many newborns fall asleep when they’re in a noisy restaurant. White noise is a proven infant sleep aid. An experimental study of newborns, 80% of infants assigned to hear playbacks of white noise fell asleep spontaneously within five minutes, while only 25% of control infants fell asleep spontaneously. Baby massage is a valuable tool for parents because it helps your baby learn how to handle stimulation and stress and respond to it calmly. Since about 80% of a baby’s communication is through body movement, touch is one of the most effective ways to communicate with your baby. When you get to know your baby’s body, you’ll have a good sense when something feels “off”. For example, when you feel your baby’s tummy, and it is a bit harder than normal, you’ll realise that gas bubbles may be causing irritability.
There’s significant scientific evidence that regular massage gives your child a physical, emotional, and intellectual advantage for a healthy childhood. Clinical studies led by Tiffany Field, at the University of Miami Touch Research Institute, showed that: Babies who are massaged appear more active and alert and have faster neurological development than babies who are not massaged. Full-term babies who are massaged regularly cry less, experience less stress, enjoy better circulation and digestion and develop stronger and healthier minds and bodies. Baby massage is especially helpful for premature babies!
Twenty premature babies massaged for fifteen minutes, three times a day, for two weeks gained 47% more weight than babies without a massage. They were also discharged six days earlier which can save parents a lot of money. It’s the greatest feeling in the world when a fussy baby calms down and stares into your eyes during a massage. There’s nothing more important than a healthy and happy baby. So enjoy this special time with your child, and touch your baby with your hands and your heart.
Babies benefit immensely from massage, which:
- Enhances communication and nurtures the parent-child bond
- Relaxes and soothes baby’s nervous system
- Decreases the production of stress hormones
- Reduces fussiness and irritability
- Helps baby sleep longer and more soundly
- Strengthens and regulates baby’s respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal functions
- Relieves gas and constipation
- Reduces colic
- Reduces pam associated with teething
- Improves baby’s muscle tone and motor skills
- Promotes faster weight gain (if that is a goal)
- Enhances baby’s sense of touch and provides a wealth of sensory experiences
- Promotes a healthy body image
- Helps separation anxiety for infants in daycare
- Benefits premature babies who remain hospitalised
- Benefits special-needs infants whose mental, visual, hearing, or developmental impairments make bonding more difficult
- Stimulates the brain and contributes to mental growth and development
Parents benefit from baby massage as well!
- Promotes parent-child bonding
- Improves communication with baby
- Enhances intimacy, understanding, and parents ability to nurture
- Increases parent confidence
- Decreases postpartum depression and nervousness (which can indeed affect the baby’s mood)
- Involves fathers in an intimate way
- Helps parents of premature and special-needs babies who remained the hospital after birth reconnect
- Encourages a special, focused time for bonding and interaction
- Improves parental understanding of baby’s nonverbal cues
- Increases the parent’s ability to calm a stressful or sick child
- Helps parents with babies in daycare
- Helps working moms reconnect with a baby after a long day at work
Touch therapy for toddlers
As babies grow, daily touch is often one of the first things that parents overlook. But regular massage shouldn’t end when babies become toddlers! Although toddlers may not be held, rocked, cared for, and watched over 24/7 anymore, they still touch as much, if not more, than when they were babies! Although the baby massage techniques can still be applied for toddlers there are different touch routines suggested supporting the physical, emotional and psychological needs of kids at each stage of growth and development.
Toddlers lives can be very frustrating because they want to do more than their skills allow. As they naturally strive to literally and figuratively away from their parents, their needs for emotional and physical connection grows. While demanding their autonomy (‘’No!” is their favourite word), toddlers still need parents help and guidance, especially when it comes to winding down and learning how to relax. Slowing down and de-stressing is important lesson at this age. Encouraging children to be still and tune into the soothing sensations of touch teaches them how to let go of stress, which will help them throughout their life.
Touch therapy for children
All the benefits of baby massage mentioned earlier apply to young children as (enhancing communication, relaxing and soothing the nervous system, helping with sleep, etc). In addition, clinical studies at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute prove that massage helps children with a number of special conditions, including:
- Anxiety: A study that compared children who were massaged to a control group of children who viewed relaxing videotapes showed that the massaged children were “less depressed and anxious and had lower saliva cortisol levels after the massage”. In addition, nighttime sleep increased over the study period and urinary cortisol and norepinephrine levels decreased.
- Autism: Massage therapy early in life has repeatedly been shown to be an effective, low-cost therapeutic approach in improving the cognitive, social, and emotional symptoms of autism. Researchers found that children who were massaged “exhibited less stereotypic (autistic) behaviour and showed more on-task and social relatedness behaviour during play observations at school, and they experienced fewer sleep problems at home than those who were not massaged. In this study, parents who were trained by a massage therapist massaged their children for fifteen minutes before bedtime every night for one month”.
- Asthma: Children were given 20 minutes of massage by their parents before bedtime each night for 30 days, and were compared to a control group who received relaxation therapy. The children who received massage therapy showed an immediate decrease in behavioural anxiety and cortisol levels after massage as well as improved pulmonary function.
- ADHD: Two studies report that regular massage therapy can be an effective treatment for kids with ADHD. One study on adolescent boys, who received 10 fifteen-minute daily massages, showed they were more focused on their schoolwork, and they fidgeted less. In addition. Boys rated themselves as happier than those who participated in another relaxation-therapy programme. Another study involved kids seven to eighteen (20% were girls). Each subject received a twenty-minute massage twice a week. They all showed immediate improvement in their moods and longer-term behavioural improvement the classroom. They also reported feeling happier, and their teachers found them to be more attentive.
- Cerebral palsy: Twenty young children with cerebral palsy received thirty minutes of massage or reading twice weekly for twelve weeks. The children receiving massage therapy showed fewer physical symptoms including “reduced spasticity, less rigid muscle tone overall and in arms, and improved fine and gross motor functioning.” In addition, the massage group showed more positive facial expressions and limb activity during face-to-face play interactions.
- Down syndrome: In a study, high-functioning young Down syndrome children were randomly assigned to receive two thirty-minute massage therapies or reading sessions per week for two months. Children in the massage group revealed greater gains in fine and gross motor functioning when compared with the children in the reading control group.
In our fast developing world, where digitalisation is taking over large part of our family time, it is easy to forget simple basics like touching each other, giving each other a hug, cuddling on the sofa while reading a book. Including a touch routine into your parenting toolbox, is a great tool to keep “in touch” with your child and optimally support your child’s physical and emotional development.
You can pre-order the “Touch therapy for children of all ages” online handbook, with detail description on how to administer touch therapy to your child of any age with [email protected]. Delivery after 1st of December. Cost 700B including access to support video instructions.
From the author:
My work with Touch Therapy started about 13 years ago when I travelled to Thailand to learn the traditional Thai Massage therapy. After five months of study going through six different courses, I returned to Switzerland to teach Baby Massage to parents and using massage in Learning Therapy. After relocating to Thailand, I shelved massage therapy for many years, concentrating on physical and mental health promotion and disease prevention in other ways. Through my studies in Applied Positive Psychology, I came across the research into Touch Therapy by Tiffany Field in Miami. And so this article and the resulting handbook came along, closing the circle between Traditional Thai Massage for physical wellbeing and Touch Therapy for psychological balance and development.