Being a parent is a rewarding, magical, exceptional time. And being the parent of a toddler… well, let’s add some frustrations and some delights to the mix, as new ideas and concepts come together with limitations on what your child can do. That hasn’t changed from when they were tiny, of course, but it’s now that they can ensure that you – and everyone else in the near vicinity – knows about it!
Parenting a toddler can be a time of high stress, as well as immense pleasure and, although in years to come you will look back on this time and wonder why you worried, whilst you are living it, everything just seems to be another layer of pressure until you feel as though you might collapse beneath the strain of it.
This is especially true in today’s high energy, high-stress world when the work day doesn’t end when you leave the office, and the world of social networking can add to feelings of guilt, or simply not being good enough. Family commitments, work, and general household tidying can also combine to make you feel as though you are neglecting your toddler.
But there is a way to reconnect. A literal way to get back in touch with your child.
If you have got five minutes (or more) every day, you can ensure that you and your toddler become closer than ever. It’s all about touch – adding just five minutes of massage, for example, into your child’s daily routine can give both you and them peace, relaxation, and calm. It unwinds, it de-stresses, and it bonds.
Massage has been hailed for centuries as a way for everyone – no matter what age – to gain at least a little well being. Positive touch is understood to have huge health benefits, and positive touch with love behind it… there can be nothing better. If you want to boost your child’s immune system, make them feel loved, give them a better sleeping pattern, give them better cognitive function, aid social development, as well as keeping them calm, then a daily massage is an easy, enjoyable (for both of you!) way to get closer.
And the great thing is, there is no need for any specific, professional training. A gentle, caring massage will work whether you have years of experience or are trying it for the first time. It’s all about the love behind it.
The wonderful thing about massage – also called ‘touch therapy’ – isn’t just for those times when there is something emotionally wrong. It can even help with a physical pain, which is why it is an amazing tool for help with teething, constipation, headaches, or minor sinus problems.
The difference between a ‘traditional’ massage where an adult will want to float away in relaxation, and just let the masseuse take control and do their thing, and a toddler massage is that the child needs to be involved in the touch therapy in some way. It keeps them motivated and interested, and it also helps to relax them. One way to do this is to use nursery rhymes or funny poems (Twinkle Twinkle or This Little Piggy work really well) to explain the movements of your hands. Your child will understand more and will remember. The repetitive sounds will calm them as well.
Benefits of Toddler Massage
There are both emotional and physical health benefits that come from a soothing, bonding, enjoyable toddler massage.
Emotional benefits include:
- As mentioned earlier, bonding between parent and child is essential for a well rounded, happy, healthy toddler and stress-free parenting time.
- It’s not just relaxing for the child, it’s relaxing for the parent too. Heart rates slow, the mind is given some space, and ultimately everyone unwinds and feels freer and happier.
- Hyperactive or aggressive children can really benefit from a massage (or rather, an on-going change to the routine that includes massage).
Physical benefits include:
- Massage can aid digestion, meaning that toilet function is improved – your toddler will need to go more regularly, which will also help with potty training, since they will understand the feelings associated with needing to go to the toilet much more quickly.
- Massage also promotes blood circulation, which not only makes the child feed great, but makes their skin healthy too since oxygen and nutrients are also flowing through the body.
- Internal organs. Internal organs are stimulated through massage, and develop better this way.
- Massage helps the lymphatic fluid on your toddler’s body to flow more easily, which in turn boosts your child’s immune system.
- Even the growth hormone within the pituitary gland increases production.
- Massage is relaxing, we all know that. But relaxation is a physical sensation as well as an emotional one, and massaging a toddler will encourage their muscles to relax, which will free up their joints. This is ideal for when they have been running around all day, and might be a little stiff now that they have finally stopped moving! It also means that as they get older, their joints are kept in tip-top condition.
Introducing Positive Touch To Your Child
If you have been massaging your child since he or she was a newborn, then continuing the practice won’t be an issue, and your toddler will be familiar with how it all works, what to expect, and how happy they will feel during and afterwards. However, if your toddler has never had a massage before, then it can be a strange sensation, and it can be difficult to explain just what you are doing, and why. After all, a small child won’t understand what it means to be calm and stress-free until they feel it, and they won’t understand the correlation between massage and that euphoric state until they allow it to happen.
Persistence is the key. But it is persistence coupled with acceptance; acceptance from your child to have the massage done to him or her, and acceptance from you that, even at the best of times, they may not want to have it done. Forcing your toddler to have a massage will undo any good work you might have been aiming for and, what’s worse, your child will not feel happy voluntarily having any kind of massage after being made to have one that they did not want. Positive touch is a wonderful thing, but it must always be consensual.
When To Massage?
Adding massage to your toddler’s bedtime routine is a great idea. At this point in the day, massage has been shown to promote deeper, longer sleep, and it will also help your toddler to fall asleep in the first place – they will be totally relaxed and able to simply drift off happily. As a bonus, during massage the oxytocin (or ‘love hormone’) levels are elevated, which leads to a fantastic bonding experience.
Toddlers are great at accepting new ideas when it comes to their routines as long as familiarity of some sort is involved. Repetition helps too. So if you are thinking of adding a few minutes of massage before bedtime, it is best to pick one specific spot in your home and stick with it. This is the massage area, and soon enough your child will accept this new way of working. The best place for the calmest start has to be the child’s own bedroom. They already associate peace and calmness (usually!) with this room, so why not play on this association technique when it comes to massage too? If your toddler has issues with his or her room, then the relaxing sensations that come with the massage – the safe, secure, trusting ones – may well help to make the room better for them in general.
If you are using the floor, or choose to be by a door or window, make sure there are no drafts. The room should be warm for the best results, especially as the ideal massage will be carried out when your child is partly undressed.
It is essential to create the calmest atmosphere that you can, otherwise, all of your good work will be undone. To create this ideal atmosphere, why not play some gentle music (instrumental is best since songs with words may distract your child, especially if he or she is familiar with it) or sounds of nature? Or perhaps keep the room as quiet as possible and allow the essential oils infusing the air to do the job. Make sure the light is as dim as possible (this could be difficult in summer time when the light lingers outside for longer, but with a good blackout blind you shouldn’t have too many problems) without being entirely dark. Candles are an excellent way to light massage time, but of course, you must take extra care when it comes to naked flames and small children who are unpredictable at the best of times!
Turn off the television, leave your phone elsewhere, and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. This is a special time between parent and child, and should not be disturbed.
Oil is a wonderful way of making a massage smoother and more relaxing. However, some oils that adults are happy to use would not be suitable for a toddler’s delicate skin, so it is best to use oil that is good for children. It is best to choose fragrance-free oil as this is safer if ingested, and it won’t combine poorly with the other scents that are already being used in the room. If possible, use a nut-free oil just in case of allergies.
The ideal oil is an organic, vegetable-based one (such as grapeseed, or avocado oil), as these are perfect for a child’s skin, and don’t leave any nasty residues behind which will then transfer to your toddler’s nightwear and bedclothes. Being left with greasy skin after a massage is also something that may cause your child to dislike the process, and so it is best to steer clear of mineral oils that block a child’s pores.
Sunflower oil is great for children with skin conditions, due to the fact that it contains vitamins A, D, and E, but it does has a short shelf life and could, therefore, go to waste.
Grapeseed has no odour and is suitable for all skin types, but it is considered high-quality oil and is expensive.
Avocado oil works wonders for dry skin with its natural moisturising ability. If you do choose to use this oil, however, it is best to pair it with another (such as sunflower oil), as on its own it can become sticky and unpleasant to use.
Coconut oil is great for sensitive skin and naturally smells divine.
With vegetable oil, as long as it has been ‘cold pressed’, there will be no left over residue, and it is good for all skin types.
It is a good idea to carry out a patch test (put a small amount of oil on your toddler and leave it for around half an hour to ensure there are no adverse effects) on your toddler to ensure that, whichever oil you choose, there are no allergic reactions. Even if your child has never exhibited any allergies before, and even if their skin isn’t what might be classed as ‘sensitive’, using a new material on them could bring out hidden problems.
This kind of massage isn’t just about making the subject comfortable – the masseuse must be comfortable as well, otherwise, the tension will tell and your child will start to fidget. If you are sitting on the floor, try leaning against the wall, or put some pillows behind you. Alternatively, sit on a well-padded chair, as long as this gives you space to also encompass your toddler.
The Wrong Time
Just as there can be a perfect time to massage your child, there can be a wrong time too. Just as a massage can instill peace and calm, it can cause tension and anger if you choose a time when your toddler is not ready to receive the massage.
There are times when a massage should not be carried out. These times include:
- When your child has a fever. This is due to the heart rate being increased by the illness and then decreased by the massage – doing this quickly can cause more problems.
- Massage allows muscles to relax, and this includes bowel muscles. A massage could well cause your child to soil themselves accidentally. However, if your child is constipated, a massage could indeed help to ease the pain and allow them to pass the stool.
- Rashes, cuts, or grazes. Any open wounds could become infected if they are rubbed, and especially so if oil is used. Rashes can become further irritated.
- If your child has had a jab between 48 and 72 earlier, it is best not to massage. The vaccine is designed to be absorbed at a particular rate, and massaging could speed this process up, meaning that the vaccine is less effective. In extreme circumstances, quickening the process could even bring on an allergic reaction.
- Infection diseases. If your child has any infectious disease, a massage won’t make them feel any better, and could make them feel worse. Not only that, but at such close contact, it is possible that you would contract the disease as well.
- Fractures or sprains. Again, massaging these areas will only lead to further pain and discomfort for your child, and they will not wish to continue any future massage attempts. If your child has brittle bones then this is another reason not to carry out a massage, so as to reduce the risk of unintentional fracturing.
As well as these times, there are some ailments that mean your child may never be able to receive a massage, and it is best to check with your doctor before beginning. These issues include:
- Heart conditions.
- Pulmonary issues.
- Allergies (especially of the skin)
- Hip problems.
- Nervous system issues.
Story Massage Routines
Making up stories to go along with your massage routines is an excellent way to encourage discussion, promote imagination, and make massage more interesting for your child. Once you are both completely relaxed and as comfortable as possible, in whichever position suits you both best, the first thing to do is to ask your toddler where they would like to be massaged and what story they would like to hear. This helps them understand their body, and helps them become involved in the massage in general. It keeps them interested and gives you a way to remember the steps involved too!
As mentioned earlier, massage must begin with permission. Without it, you should never attempt to continue to massage your child, as it could put them off massage completely, and will only serve to make everyone tense and stressed. You will soon be able to understand how your child is feeling and will know when it is the right time to attempt a massage.
The Head, Neck, and Back Routine
Before you begin, as always, ask your child’s permission to perform the massage. Place your hands carefully on their shoulders so that they know you are there, and ask them what kind of story they would like to hear. After the decision has been made (with or without your prompting), sweep your hands down their back, with your palm flat against their body. Move from their shoulders to the base of the spine, then up again on either side of the spine, across the shoulders, and down each arm using the effleurage technique.
Say, “The little robin redbreast, Rudy, was having fun diving from the sky into the water bath that the kind gardeners had filled for him. He dived down and then soared back up into the sky again, circling the air.”
Now put one hand on top of the other and make a figure of eight from one shoulder, across the top of your child’s back, to the other shoulder. Repeat up to five times.
Say, “When Rudy had had enough of the water bath, he darted around the sky enjoying the warmth of the sun to dry him. He met his friends Roxy the Raven and Peter the Parrot – they all flew around the sun-drenched sky together, darting and diving and having fun.”
Next keep your hands flat and stroke one hand down from your child’s shoulders, replacing with the other, and continually alternating so that you don’t lose contact.
Say, “Eventually Rudy grew tired of playing with his friends, so he gently fluttered down to the ground for a rest.”
Clench your fists very loosely and gently begin to tap your toddler’s upper back and the top of their shoulders. Be careful not to get too carried away, as you must not use too much strength at this point (if your child has a cold or allergies, this movement works very well to clear their congestion).
Say, “The ground was cooler than Rudy had thought it would be, as it was covered in the shadows of big trees, and so he hopped around it, trying to find a good space to rest.”
Now move to the back of your toddler’s neck. Knead the flesh very lightly with just cupped hands.
Say, “Rudy’s little feet grew used to the chilly ground, and because he was so tired he slowed down and walked daintily across the grass. In the distance he spotted somewhere that looked perfect for a little nap – a big holly bush.”
Now walk your fingers up to the top of your child’s head, and begin to massage there. The motion required is much as though you were shampooing their hair, using the tips of your fingers and rubbing the scalp.
Say, “Rudy reached the holly bush and hopped up onto one of its branches. He then nestled down inside where it was warm and dark and perfect for having a little sleep.”
Finally, stroke down from the head to the base of the spine. Use the palm of your hand on the top of your child’s head and bring that down in a fluid motion all the way down to the bottom, and then come back up again. Do this as many times as you need to ensure complete relaxation.
Say, “Rudy the tried red-breasted robin snored quietly inside his lovely holly bush home. The sun began to set and Rudy smiled in his sleep. He was a very happy little bird.”
Why not try this massage on your child after a bedtime time bath? A bath coupled with this story massage is the perfect recipe for a good nights sleep.