Massage to help build attachment with children

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Massage to help create attachment with children. An adult hand cradling a baby's foot
Image by prabin basnet from Pixabay

Having a massage is something a lot of parents use as a means of relaxing, switching off from their day, and getting some self-care. Some of the benefits of a massage include

  • helping to reduce stress
  • increase relaxation
  • reduce muscle tightness
  • improve your immune system

Touch and massage can also have benefits for kids and are effective ways of building attachment, particularly with children who have experienced developmental delays and those with sensory issues. It is also a good way of supporting the development of motor skills.

Many adopted children experience issues around attachment as a result of their early life experiences. This can affect their ability to connect with others, particularly new caregivers.

Developmental pathways

Massaging your child, and/or letting them massage you offers a unique opportunity to address different developmental pathways at the same time. For example, sitting close allows for eye-to-eye contact, firm but gentle touch can encourage feelings of safety, and using words of encouragement can stimulate a child’s sense of confidence.

It provides a lovely opportunity for connection and bonding. Gentle touch is an excellent non-verbal way to communicate care and tenderness that promotes attachment, releases feel-good hormones, and helps a child feel loved.

Whilst massage is popular with parents of babies as a result of baby massage classes, it can also be of great benefit to older children. Nurturing and compassionate touch can help to stimulate multiple brain reactions whilst introducing the use of essential oils and relaxing music can also help to support the connection.

Massage to help build attachment

The key to using massage as an effective tool to build the bond between you and your child is for it to be at their pace and on their terms.

It won’t be a good technique to use for all children, so a good way of starting is by asking them to massage you, suggesting they rub your back or the back of your hand. This way they control how long it lasts and how much contact there is.

If they see that you’re enjoying it, they are more likely to want to let you do it to them. Follow their cues and don’t push it if they are reluctant, or will only tolerate it for a few seconds. Try again another day as it may take a while for them to build up trust to let you do it.

Massage to help support attachment with children. Adult hands massaging a baby's back
Photo by Khoa Pham on Unsplash

Some great, nurturing techniques to use include:

  • Stroking. Use a flat, open palm in long, smooth strokes on the body. This helps calm and relax.
  • Kneading. Gently grasp and squeeze muscles with thumbs and fingers which helps to ease tension.
  • Compression. Gently apply pressure to muscles which helps improve circulation.
  • Rocking. Rhythmic rocking motions on the back, arms, and legs soothes and comforts.

Make sure you use light touches, and follow your child’s cues starting with a few minutes at a time and focus on areas of tension like the back, tummy, arms, and legs.

Aromatherapy

If your child likes the feel of oils or lotions on their skin, use them to help reduce friction if you are massaging bare skin. This can be a great way to introduce the benefits of aromatherapy and help them associate certain smells like lavender, with calmness and relaxation.

Introducing massage and touch in the early days of placement can help it to become part of a regular routine that can then be used as a calming technique when you start to understand their behaviour and triggers.

Massage resources

There is a wide range of books and apps available if you want to learn more about massage techniques and different ways to use them on your child. “Once Upon a Touch…: Story Massage for Children“* teaches 10 easy-to-learn strokes that can be done on top of clothes. They are then incorporated into stories, songs, and rhymes, adding an element of fun to massage.

“Healing Touch for Children: Massage, reflexology, and acupressure for children“* written by Mary Atkinson is another popular book that explains how to carry out simple massage techniques.

The Storybook App also combines storytelling and massage and is a great tool to use for younger children.

* Please note, these are affiliate links so if you click on them and buy the books from Amazon, I get paid a fee.

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