Massage for children and young people with all abilities and disabilities.
This page is for our Jungle: children and young people with all disabilities and abilities and provides external links to useful videos which may help you with massage of your child.
Massage offers a lovely opportunity for bonding. Gentle, relaxing touch is a great non-verbal way to communicate tenderness and care, and build the connection between child and caregiver. It promotes secure attachment, releases feel-good hormones and helps our child feel loved and cherished.
Massage relaxes tight muscles and other soft tissues. This may lead to better joint ranges of movement and thus improve movement skills.
Waking up Muscles
Children in wheelchairs or who have some difficulties with movement and coordination often don’t get sensory input (touch or physical contact) to all areas of their bodies. When parts of our bodies get less stimulation, the feedback to the brain is less – so they move less effectively.
Massage wakes up our children’s muscles and allows them the opportunity to move better. Massaging the hands or legs is therefore a great thing to do before playing or working on gross motor skills/movements.
Children who aren’t moving so much can have issues with circulation. Massage helps, because contracting underused muscles helps blood and other fluids move around the body. We always work towards the heart when we massage to help this process.
Massage that includes movement of legs and hips and gentle manipulation of the tummy can help move stomach contents, reducing trapped wind and constipation.
For children who are tactile defensive, massage (if tolerated) can help to desensitise the skin. Firm touch can be preferable to gentle, while oil can make massage more comfortable. If your child doesn’t like hands, you can try using other implements: brushes, rollers or vibration devices, for example.
It is important to respect your child’s boundaries, so if they resist or are unhappy, stop the massage and try again another day.
Calming and Regulating
Massage helps regulate the nervous system. For children who are always on the go with lots of energy, massage can be calming, encourage stillness and help with concentration.
An active child might not be able to remain still for an entire body massage, but even working on a single limb can be helpful.
Heightening Physical Awareness
Communication is really important. If your child can understand language, talk to them throughout the massage, telling them what you are doing. This is a great way to teach them about their bodies and help heighten their awareness of what they are feeling. Better body knowledge helps with movement and coordination, while the loving touch of massage can be helpful for self-esteem.
Massage ideas and activities for you to try at home with your child.
The idea of learning to massage can be daunting, but there is lots of great information out there to help us get started. We love these videos:
While this introductory video talks about children up to 6 months of age, the principles apply across the board – particularly if your child is not moving very much or struggles to reach gross motor milestones.
This video takes you through the whole-body massage with explanations of different techniques. As the masseuse explains, as your child gets older you may only get and arm or a leg in at a time but persevere as they will still get the benefits.
If your child is older do feel free to pause the video to make sure you have time to cover the whole body in your massage-going slowly is more beneficial than rushing to keep up. You can also use more age appropriate songs as they get older.
This is a really lovely video of a mother massaging her older child with Cerebral Palsy (Spastic Diplegia). It shows some lovely techniques on the legs and back and explains some of the benefits.
This is a simple video showing some calming massage techniques for children who are over-stimulated/ over-excited. This can be lovely before bed or when they need to concentrate.
This video demonstrates hand and lower arm massage techniques. This can be a lovely way to prepare your child for some fine motor or messy play activities as it will wake up the hands and forearms and may help de-sensitise their hands to different textures.
It can also be lovley to stretch a tight hand and prepare for activities if children have increased tone.
More fun resources for Jungle
Additional Video Resources
Here are a selection of videos that we have created that are suitable for children with all abilities and disabilities. These videos relate to massage for children with disabilities but include fun and play elements too.
By using the ‘hand over hand’ technique you can help stretch out and massage your child’s hands whilst also having fun with salt dough.
Stealthy Ways for Handwashing
You can use massage to get your child to have more fun whilst washing their hands.