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As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don’t have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about? Plenty. Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.
Sources of Stress
Stress is the result of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from inside sources; our own thoughts, our own tendencies towards character traits like perfectionism or shyness, and our own reaction to certain events. Stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids.
What can trigger the onset of stress and/or anxiety in children?
- Separation from parents as a preschooler
- Starting or moving schools
- Trying to fit in socially
- Loss of a loved one, or parental divorce
- Personality traits like perfectionism or shyness
- Adjusting to new situations
- Exam pressures for teenagers
- Lack of time to play creatively or relax after school – possible overscheduling
- Listening to and taking on parent’s anxiety or home life tension
- Disturbing images on TV or in the news can unsettle children and make them worry about their own safety and that of the people they love.
It’s most important to remember that some things which aren’t a big deal to adults can cause significant stress for kids. For children, anxiety disorders may be difficult to cope with, as they may not yet have the ability to vocalize their feelings, nor the coping skills needed to manage them. It’s important to let your kids know that you understand they’re stressed and not to dismiss their feelings.
According to the National Institute of Health, chronic stress causes anxiety, depression and heart disease. The emergency stress response, or the “flight-or-fight” response, is the body’s physical reaction to stress. Stress elevates the heart rate, increases muscular tension, breathing rate and feelings of anxiety.
Parent-child massage is a wonderful way to bond with your children while offering them health benefits. Whether used on its own, or as part of a child’s individual treatment plan, massage therapy can provide much needed relief from the symptoms of anxiety.
Human touch is essential to our health.
Our skin is full of many millions of nerve receptors that are linked to our nervous system. Therefore, our skin and nervous system are intimately connected. Because massage works directly on the skin it also has an effect on the nervous system. Massage promotes the relaxation response–heart rate decelerates, breathing rate slows and muscles relax.
Benefits Of Massage:
- Relaxes the nervous system
- Strengthens immune system
- Reduces the stress hormones released into the body
- Improves posture
- Improves circulation
- Encourages relaxation
- Enhances feelings of well-being
- Increase mental alertness. When your mind is calm and relaxed, it is able to think more clearly. You will be able to solve problems with the efficiency that would be lacking if your mind is filled with stress and anxiety.
- Improves mental health. When you are depressed, your brain produces less endorphins (neurotransmitters which are your happy, feel-good and calming hormones). Massage helps to increase the production of these hormones.
What You As Parents Can Do At Home
Incorporate some parent-child massage into their routine. Once a week, twice a week, or every night if you have the means to do so. Make it a special time for them. This quality time shared is invaluable. Allow 10-15 minutes to spend with your child. If you can allocate more time then that’s even better. They can either sit or lay down but make sure you are both comfortable.
You can run them a bath first, or if you don’t have a bath, soak their feet in a foot spa or bucket filled with warm water. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the water to assist with relaxation.
After this, rub some massage oil between your hands and use slow, gentle strokes working in a downward motion, from the head to the feet. This helps to move energy downwards and to stabilize them. Some people find it easiest to have the child lying face down and working from the hair and head, down the back, down the legs and finishing with the feet, but you could also just focus on certain areas if you like, like the face, or the feet, since this is also incredibly relaxing. Every person and every child is different as to what they like, or what body parts make them feel squirmish when touched, so keep an open communication with your child about what suits them the best.
Of course, if your child is uncomfortable with you massaging them, or if you don’t feel confident giving them one yourself, you could always make it a special treat for your child to receive a massage from a trusting massage therapist. Either way, it’s most important that they receive the benefits of what massage can offer them.
What We As Therapists Can Do In The Clinic
- Acupuncture: We use a special paediatric style of acupuncture in the clinic called Shonishin which is gentle and wonderful to use on children. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce cortisol and stress hormones and release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones. Acupuncture works specifically with the nervous system to reduce the stress response and accompanying anxiety. Read more about Shonishin acupuncture here.
- Herbs: There are some great herbal products for children which work to tonify their nervous system, reduce their stress hormones, help them sleep and make them feel calm. Talk to your Practitioner about which ones are best for your child.
Here are some quotes children have said about massages – we couldn’t help but share. So cute!
“It was so nice that I started to cry. That’s good because teardrops cleans us.” – Tobias 6 years
“My sister took my best jacket to school without asking me. I was so angry and sad and did not want to go to school. That morning we had massage and after I felt sad, but not angry.” – Andra 7 years
“I gave my guinea pig some massage. It was still and seemed to be happy – every body needs somebody who cares.” – Jessica 7 years