Raising kids is challenging under the most normal of times, but when magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be downright overwhelming. Whether a big family, small family, single parent family or blend of everything in-between, the stress of the “new normal” that we all find ourselves in affects everyone, at any age. Parents are already donning the hats of professional cat-herders, so adding the shift to working at home, online schooling and quarantine can certainly feel like a crazy ride on a tilt-a-whirl at any given moment.
“Children are more than just small adults. Physically, mentally, emotionally, (and yes, legally), they have unique needs, wants and limitations.” Tina Allen, LMT, Liddle Kidz Foundation
As a massage therapist, I have always had a special interest in pediatric/adolescent massage benefits as well as having previously opened my practice to include adolescents and teens. I developed an interest in practicing when I became a parent and realized there were numerous benefits to offering massage to my kids from the time they were infants and all the way up to their ripe old ages of 12 and 18.
In addition to being beneficial as far as feeling good and being relaxing, I found that integrating massage into our family also helped all of us in coping with what appears to be the winning lottery mix of anxiety and ADHD conditions that we all seem to share. In seeing the anecdotal success of compassionate touch within my own family, it wasn’t a far leap in knowing kids other than mine could benefit in their daily lives from a variety of massage applications.
While researching the mechanisms of pain and the nervous system throughout my career, I noticed that in many chronic pain conditions, frequently my clients stated that they dealt with symptoms from really early in their adolescence and into their teens.They expressed that they wished they had access to massage earlier in their lives.
As I began seeing younger clients, I was really able to learn from them what their experiences were as far as the context of their pain. For some, it was year-round sports schedules, for others, the stress of school and sudden family changes. For these clients, even as young as 9 or 10, they all seemed to share similar challenges as my adult clients in terms of body aches and pains, bouts of anxiety and depression, and/or general stress-related conditions. Massage helped these young clients feel less anxiety, increased relief from the pain of sports, injuries or growing pains, and gave them a calm space to feel refreshed.
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” L.R. Knost
Our society tends to think of stress as a condition that only affects us as adults. But the truth is, even infants and children experience the effects of stress and tension. External pressures on our kids such as family changes, school expectations, or peer interactions can cause a measure of stress. These external pressures can add to individual internal emotions and anxieties, such as wanting to fit in with schoolmates, or wanting to make parents proud through school or activities.
Today’s generation of kids are inundated with information from all sides. The world is no longer an “outside” realm in which they can close the doors easily, or turn it off. Schoolwork feels like mountains, schedules are packed non-stop with as many activities that can be imagined, and interactions with peers becomes magnified with social media pressures and availabilities.
Some of these stresses can even come in the form of positive things, such as the excitement of participating in a sports event, or working on a school science project. All the while, kids bodies are constantly growing and developing, which creates an entirely different set of physiological and emotional changes to the mix.
“Years from now, kids won’t remember they missed soccer practice, but they will remember that their parents got down on the floor and played with them.” Jill Cornfield, CNBC writer
We know that kids thrive on consistency and predictability just as much as adults under normal circumstances. COVID-19 has created quite the collective trauma. It has thrown us into many confusing feelings, including the free-fall feelings of uncertainty, the isolating effects of social distancing and quarantine, and an overwhelming barrage of coverage in every media outlet that exists. As parents, we of course want to find ways for our kids to cope, and feel a sense of stability and resilience during tough times. For our kids and teens, it can be difficult for them to verbalize what they are feeling in all of this.
So what are some things that can be done at home to help create a sense of safety and compassion within our families, not only during this time of pandemic, but also later on?
Reducing Fear and Anxiety
Though this is a coronavirus-specific video, the information within offers a lot of keen advice for any general anxiety or fear that children and teens can experience
Child Stress During COVID-19 Pandemic – First with Kids – UVM Children’s Hospital
When everyone is losing their minds and feeling a bit cooped up, mindfulness exercises are a great way to be able to take a breath and find some inner calm. This practice can be used pretty much anywhere, by anyone, whether it is during a stressful work or school day, prepping for an intense sports game or during prolonged stays at home.
Family Massage Sessions
Massage is more than just an indulgence; for adults and kids alike it is incredibly beneficial. For families, it can be a really great way to bond and pass the time. Safe and positive touch is a real mood-booster, and it doesn’t have to be a complicated, one-hour session to be beneficial.
For those who really love massage (and parents, a lot of time kids love practicing on you guys, too!) these can be a really great break for everyone. These are some fun resources that are short and sweet, and that any age can benefit from.
Tips before you start
Kids are usually pretty squirmy and if massage is a new experience, it make take a little bit for them to settle. Even a couple of leg compressions or foot squeezes or back rubs can be beneficial, so don’t forget that first and foremost, it should be fun for you and your kiddos. t isn’t about quantity of minutes, rather the quality, even if it ends up feeling like a short set of prolonged hand-hugs.
Autonomy is important! Every day we have a different tolerance for who is in our bubble, and sometimes stress can oversensitize our nervous systems. It is important to empower children when it comes to touch, so it is important to ask your kids if it is okay to give them a massage and get their consent, even if they are the ones who asked you! It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a simple “OK, now that you’ve gotten comfortable, is it okay to start the massage?” Have them ask you parents, too, because this gives them an idea of boundaries as well, and the sense of being more “professional”, which can be really fun for younger kids.
This is a really great way to set the bar for kids and teens when they (hopefully!) come in for a professional massage session later in life, and it gives them a great foundation in being able to express their feelings comfortably. Giving kids this ability to say “yes” or “no” seems like such a small thing, but it really can instill a bigger sense of self-worth and self-esteem as they get older.
If you are worried about massage pressure, there are easy ways to give age-appropriate language terms so that everyone feels good during the massage. As a professional LMT, I check in a bit more frequently with my younger clients to ensure the session is what they want. I’ll simply ask, “Does this tickle? Would you like more pressure? Less? Should I slow down?” You know your kids better than anyone and easier to find which age-appropriate language works for you. Be mindful of fingernails when doing any pinching or squeezing techniques. It’s hard to avoid it every time, but using the finger pads, versus poking directly with a finger or thumb can make all the difference for everyone in the family.
And parents- you might be surprised at how strong some of your kids really are when they go to squish your shoulders or rub your feet!
Ten-Minute Shoulders and Neck for Everyone
For Infants and Toddlers
Caregivers, kids and anyone who has aching feet and legs
This video was created for caregivers, but can be adapted easily for kids, and would also benefit anyone in the house for any reason, especially after a family Netflix-binge.
Interested in additional content regarding kid or teen-specific issues, like athletic injuries, mental health or growing pains? Let me know! Send an email through our “Contact Us” page and let me know what you parents would be interested in seeing in the future.
As always, this post was researched with evidence-based practices, and the reference materials are below:
CDC Covid-19 Stress and Coping
Supporting Kids During the Coronavirus Crisis
How to Spot Stress and Anxiety in Children
Children and Massage
Stress in Children and Teenagers