by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
Children, like adults, can experience stress and anxiety too. Massage can help.
Haven’t we all felt stress or anxiety at one time or another? Whether due to an upcoming exam, an impending move or even just being in an unfamiliar situation, stress can occur. As an adult, these stressors are easier to understand and manage, however, imagine if you are a child trying to understand these situations.
It is up to us, the caregivers of children, to recognize and understand symptoms of anxiety
According to The Children's Center for OCD and Anxiety, Anxiety is the number one mental health problem in America; conservative estimates suggest that 13% of children and adolescents suffer from an anxiety disorder.
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. For most children their fears are short-lived, and can be quickly outgrown.
The Loss of a Parent, Starting School or Moving can cause stress and anxiety for Children
In fact, anxiety in children should be expected at various times throughout development and is in many cases regarded as normal. Some children may also suffer from excessive shyness and may struggle to adjust to new situations. Stressful events such as starting school, moving, or the loss of a parent can trigger the onset of anxiety. However, a specific stressor need not be the precursor to the development of a disorder. Many believe that if left untreated, children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, have less developed social skills, and are more vulnerable to substance abuse.
Tackled Head On, Massage Therapy can be an Effective Method of Intervention for Children who suffer from Stress and Anxiety Symptoms
Although children experience the symptoms of anxiety in much the same way as adults do, they display and react to these same symptoms differently. Some children are more anxious than others and may need additional reassurance from their families, or help from a professional. This is especially true if an Anxiety disorder is suspected. Anxiety becomes a problem if it begins to affect your child’s daily routine, or if it is causing your child significant distress.
With proper intervention, a child’s anxiety can be tackled head on and children can experience a reduction in their anxiety. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that massage therapy may be an effective method of intervention in these situations.
Massage Therapy can Provide much Needed Relief from the Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
In one such study, children who survived Hurricane Andrew displayed a decrease in anxiety, depression and stress hormone levels following massage therapy (Field et al, 1996). In another study, parents of children with Sickle Cell Disease were trained to perform a nightly massage on their children. The parents were provided with basic training and periodic supervision. This practice of massage therapy resulted in several positive changes in the children affected by Sickle Cell Disease. These benefits included a decrease in anxiety, depression, pain and a greater ability to function normally (Lemanek et al, 2009, State University College of Medicine and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia).
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. As with any new treatment, your healthcare practitioner should be contacted prior to beginning any course of treatment.
Massage may be a supportive therapy that can be readily applied, most effectively by specially trained massage therapists or by parents who have learned massage techniques from a skilled, educated massage therapist. Pediatric massage and nurturing touch are the most appropriate massage techniques to use in this population. When using massage therapy for children with cancer, your work does not need to be aggressive to achieve its maximum potential.
For more information visit Comprehensive Pediatric Massage Training Course (CPMT)
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