Massage For Children & Youth

By Alan Jordan, BA, LMT, NCTMB & Peggy Jones Farlow, LMT, MsEd, CIMI, © Copyright 2008.

Massage/Touch Has Helped Kids With

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Cancer (with medical permission)
  • Autism
  • Anxiety
  • Body image
  • ADD and ADHA
  • Asthma/Respiratory problems
  • Premature infant weight gain
  • Developmental delayed
  • Speech/language delayed
  • Many other special needs
  • Tactile defensive/autistic

Massage/Touch Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: Massaging with compassion and love strengthens the ties that bond between parent and child.

Body: It improves circulation and skin nutrition, stimulates growth, offers passive exercise reducing atrophy of muscles and easing aches and pains, increases flexibility and function of muscles and joints.

Mind: It supports and increases thinking and verbal skills.

Emotions: It helps children relax and learn to calm themselves and be better able to manage stress. Helps relieve depression and anxiety.

Social: It can increase speech and language skills and help to build trust, friendship and respect.

Brief Description Of Massage/Touch

Massage/Touch provides an opportunity for increased bonding and attachment between parent and child. It balances the child’s muscle tone by increasing floppy muscle tone and decreasing tight muscle tone. Massage/Touch supports respiration and deeper breathing patterns. It enhances the immune system by increasing circulation and lymph flow. When done in specific ways, Massage/Touch can increase the child’s verbalization and socialization.

Success With Massage/Touch

  • Children with symptoms of Autism have shown increased relaxation when they received massage during activities, more than those who received other forms of relaxation methods.
  • Premature infants provided with 10 minutes of massage three times a day increased their weight gain, allowing release from the hospital 3 weeks earlier than those infants who did not receive massage.
  • A mother felt an increase in her love and emotional attachment with her son after learning massage. Her son, with severe cerebral palsy, seemed to “cuddle” more.
  • Massage helped children with dermatitis and other chronic skin conditions.

Massage/Touch Is Appropriate For Ages

  • Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, growing children and adolescents all benefit from massage and positive touch.
  • Newborns and premature infants respond positively to monitored massage.
  • Some teenagers often go through a few years where they are no longer comfortable with massage.

Children & Youth’s Reactions To Massage/Touch

  • Children really enjoy it, relaxing and smiling after just a few moments.
  • Children with cerebral palsy extend previously flexed muscles.
  • Children given massages at bedtime fall asleep easier.

Extra Care Is Needed

  • Feeding tubes
  • Shunts
  • Under-control diabetes
  • Immediately after surgery
  • Skin diseases
  • Seizures, undiagnosed conditions
  • Unusual skin condition

Contraindications: When Massage/Touch Should Be Avoided

  • Medical consultation is needed before massage is given to children with critical and chronic medical conditions.
  • Massage should be avoided with children who have any swelling, fever, open sores, active diabetes, acute infection, and/or staph infections.


  • Touch is a human experience. Many cultures have utilized infant/child massage for centuries. For example, references to Massage/Touch are found in Chinese literature as early as 3000 B.C. Massage was used in various forms by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • Hippocrates, the first physician, understood the value of massage and thought every physician should be experienced in the art.
  • Massage was formally introduced to the United States in 1856 by George and Charles Taylor and it was used extensively during World Wars I and II. It moved out of favor after World War II as people turned to technology, machines and pharmaceuticals for quick cures.
  • Ashley Montagu provided extensive information on the importance of human touch and the therapeutic value of massage.
  • Vilima McClure brought infant massage to the United States from India in the early 1970’s. She established the International Association of Infant Massage in the 1980’s.
  • Today, people are becoming more aware of alternative health care methods and are learning to take responsibility for their own bodies. As a result, massage therapy is experiencing phenomenal growth in the U.S. and throughout the modern world.

Basic Concepts And Components Of Massage/Touch

  • Massage/Touch includes stroking, rubbing, pressure, gliding, gentle stretching, or rocking.
  • Touch supports trust, emotional security, communication and health.
  • Pediatric massage is compassionate, honors the child’s boundaries and desires, and helps form stronger family relationships.

Description Of A Typical Session

  • Before massage, the professional therapist conducts a thorough interview to determine the needs of the child and to confirm that there are no reasons the child should not be massaged.
  • Appropriate dress is always discussed and modesty is always respected. Some children prefer to have their clothes on, others prefer just their underwear, while some enjoy being covered with only a sheet.
  • Parents can remain in the treatment room but should be prepared to sit quietly during the session.
  • The typical treatment room is softly lit, often with gentle music or environmental sounds being played. The room is warm and comfortable.
  • Massage/Touch is applied for varying lengths of time: 10 minutes to an hour, depending on age and needs of the infant/child.
  • Sessions end with a short, quiet time to allow the treatment to sink in.

Major Differences Of Opinion Between Practitioners

  • Some therapists work on a therapeutic/medical/condition-based model.
  • Other therapists work on the whole child, paying attention to the connection between mind, body and spirit, and focusing upon respect, self-worth and communication.

Fees/Costs In 2007

  • Costs are $23-$40 for 30 minutes; $50-$75 for one hour.
  • Prices vary in different parts of the country.
  • Parents who want to massage their own children can ask the therapist to teach them massage techniques.

Average Time Per Session

  • Thirty minutes to one hour, depending on the age of the child and the child’s willingness
  • Ten minutes of massage daily - if provided by a trained parent
  • Twenty to thirty minute weekly sessions for children with special needs

Recommended Length Of Time Between Sessions

  • The frequency of massage depends upon the child’s ability to tolerate the stimulation.
  • For pain management, injury rehabilitation or surgery, children may see a massage therapist once or twice a week for two to six weeks.

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • Improvement can sometimes be noticed immediately; but it usually takes one to three sessions.

Suggestions To Make Massage/Touch More Effective

  • Quietly stay in the room with the child and therapist, out of the child’s vision range.
  • Make sure the therapist always asks permission of the infant/child no matter what age.
  • Create a warm, quiet and safe space (may be indoors or out).
  • Communicate with the child and respect his or her needs for touch/no touch.

Other Methods That Are Similar To Massage/Touch

  • Acupressure
  • Touch Therapy
  • Reiki
  • Yoga
  • Movement/awareness therapies
  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Myofascial release

Other Methods That Complement Massage/Touch

Most massage/bodywork approaches that offer gentle, nurturing touch, including:

  • Compassionate Touch
  • Craniosacral work
  • Feldenkrais Method
  • Yoga for the Special Child
  • Chiropractic
  • Acupressure

Nature And Length Of Training To Be A Practitioner

  • Massage schools differ. Most requirements are from 500 hours to 1000 hours of massage training.
  • Few massage schools offer specific training in pediatric massage.

Special Training Needed To Work With Children & Youth

  • Massage therapists seek further training to work with children through continuing education programs such as: Touch to T.E.A.C.H.; various workshops; Pediatric Myofascial Release, and Crainosacral Therapy.
  • Check credentials and ask with whom the therapist has trained.
  • Pick therapists who have experience working with children and children with special needs.

Certification/Licenses Held By Practitioners

  • The International Association of Infant Massage certifies instructors of massage for children and for teaching parents how to massage their own children.
  • AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) provides list of reputable member therapists.
  • If you live in a state that requires a license to practice massage therapy, make sure that your therapist has one.
  • Nationally Certification of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCTMB) indicates that the therapist has met certain basic standards of training and experience, and compliance to a code of ethics.

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Practitioners

  • American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), 500 Davis Street, Evanston, IL 60201-4695, Ph: 877-905-2700; Fax: 847-864-1178; Website: www.amtamassage.org; Email:info@amtamassage.org
  • National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB); 1901 South Meyers Road, Suite 240; Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181; Ph: 800-296-0664; Website: www.ncbtmb.com; Email:info@ncbtmb.com.
  • International Association of Infant Massage, P.O. Box 6370; Ventura, CA 93006; Ph: 805-644-8524, Fax: 805-830-1729; Website: www.iaim.ws; Email:IAIM4US@aol.com

Number Of Certified Practitioners In U.S., Canada, And Mexico

  • There are currently 37,000+ massage therapists who are Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and bodywork.

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Practitioner

  • Look for compassion and the ability to relate to children.
  • Confirm the amount of experience they have working with children.
  • Watch the practitioner’s interest in your child. Make sure your child is more important than their attachment to their method.
  • Notice your child’s interest in the therapist.
  • Have a massage yourself and feel the quality of their touch.
  • Check to make sure the therapist has training in pediatric/infant massage for normal and at-risk children.

Leading Clinics, Centers, Practitioners

  • International Association of Infant Massage; P.O. Box 6370; Ventura, CA 93006; 805-644-8524; Fax: 805-830-1729; Website: www.iaim.ws; Email:IAIM4US@aol.com
  • International Institute of Infant Massage, Maria and Wayne Mathias; 605 Bledsoe Rd., NW; Albuquerque, NM 87107; 505-341-9381; Fax: 505-341-9386; Website: www.infantmassageinstitute.com; Email:info@infantmassageinstitute.com
  • Touch to T.E.A.C.H (Trust, Emotional security, Attachment & attending, Communication & cognition, and Healthier children, families & world). Private instruction for primary and professional caregivers in pediatric massage for children with special needs. 18092 Blue Springs Rd; Athens, AL 35611; 256-729-0070; Website: www.touchtoteach.org; Email:pegfarlow@aol.com
  • Touch Research Institute (TRI); Dr. Tiffany Field; University of Miami School of Medicine; Mailman Center for Child Development; 1601 NW 12th Ave.; 7th Floor, Room 7037; Miami, FL; 305-243-6781; Fax: 305-243-6488; Website: www6.miami.edu/touch-research; Email: tfield@med.miami.edu

Resources, Research Papers, Books, DVD’s, Websites

  • Contact the Touch Research Institute in Miami (see above). Dr. Tiffany Field has multiple research papers on the positive benefits of massage for children.


  • Jordan, Alan, “Massage Through the Ages” July/August 2000 edition of Massage Magazine.
  • Farlow, Peggy. “Touch to T.E.A.C.H. - Guidebook for Professional and Primary Caregivers for Children With Special Needs.” Available through: www.touchtoteach.org.
  • Field, Tiffany. Touch Therapy. London: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.
  • Heller, Sharon. The Vital Touch. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.
  • Martin, Chia. The Art of Touch: A Massage Manual for Young People. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press, 1996.
  • Sinclair, Marybetts. Massage for Healthier Children. Oakland, CA: Wingbow Press, 1992.

Helpful Tips For Parents

  • The best time to massage is when your child is alert and ready for interaction.
  • Relax and have fun with massage and your child.
  • Do massage before your child goes to bed or after bath when you are both more relaxed.
  • Involve both fathers and mothers in the massage for the child with special needs.

Biography Of Peggy Jones Farlow, Co-Author

  • Peggy Jones Farlow has 30 years experience providing speech therapy to special children.
  • She has 15 years LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist).
  • She holds the following degrees: MEd., Special Education Speech/Language Pathology; Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT); Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI).

To Contact Peggy Jones Farlow, Who Co-Contributed This Chapter

Peggy Jones Farlow; Creator of Touch to T.E.A.C.H (a program for special needs children); 18092 Blue Springs Rd.; Athens, AL 35611; Ph: 256 -729 0070; Website: www.touchtoteach.org; Email: pegfarlow@aol.com

Biography Of Alan Jordan, Co-Author

  • Alan Jordan has 20 years experience as massage therapist and massage therapy educator.
  • He holds a B.A.
  • He published “Touch Listen and Be: Creating Nonviolent People”.
  • He is presently director of the Helma Institute of Massage in Saddle Brook, New Jersey (website: http://www.helma.com).

Peggy Jones Farlow’s Personal Statement

By teaching a caregiver or family how to successfully offer nurturing touch and massage to their child with special needs, I believe we begin to heal the world. - Peggy

Alan Jordan’s Personal Statement

Healthy touch is essential to producing a healthy child. Children who receive abundant touch cry less, are happier, more energetic and more alert. Children deprived of touch develop severe developmental disorders. Dr. James Prescott, a former member of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has concluded that the presence or absence of touch, as well as cultural practices regarding touch, are the two most important factors that differentiate violent or non-violent cultures. He states, “The principal cause of human violence is a lack of bodily pleasure derived from touching and stroking during the formative years.”

To Contact Alan Jordan, Who Co-Contributed This Chapter

Alan Jordan; 10 Frances Street; Clifton NJ 07014; Ph: 201-280-8654; Email: alankjordan@aol.com

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Massage/Touch: Massage really helps children & youth.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About Massage/Touch: Touch is a language that teaches us who we are and what our world is about. Massage is a form of touch that teaches us that we can be gentle, loveable, peaceful and well. It relaxes children and puts them in touch with their bodies. When children are touched they feel real to themselves. I look forward to the day when all of us, including children, are massaged at least once a week.

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