Using Massage to Calm, Relax and Boost Concentration for Children With ADHD
Massage stimulates the touch and body awareness (proprioceptive) systems in a way that is calming and regulating. Slow pressure movements can help our child to regulate their breathing and heart rate without being asked to do this consciously.
Massage can therefore be really useful is our child is het up or over-excited, and needs to chill out or focus on a particular activity. As well as physically calming the body, it promotes secure attachment, releases feel-good hormones and helps our child feel loved and cherished.
Because many children with ADHD struggle with sleep, a massage can also be really helpful before bed. Adding in other relaxing elements (soft music, calming essential oils, sensory lights) enhances the experience.
The idea of learning to massage can be daunting, but massage doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are some useful ideas.
This video series by KidCare Canada offers a great introduction to massage, with advice on techniques. While the focus is for babies up to 6 months of age, the principles apply for all ages.
This 45 minute video takes you through a whole-body massage series with explanations of different techniques. Again, the video was created with babies in mind but the massage offered would still benefit older children.
If your child is receptive and calm you might be able to give them the entire massage while you follow along the video. However if you can only offer massage in small sections – even one leg or arm at a time – they will still feel the benefit.
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.
Singing is a nice addition to the massage series. If you do the massage regularly the songs will offer an aural cue as to what is coming/what to expect which can be comforting. However it is by no means essential: if your child does not like singing, you don’t have to sing. If the songs themselves are a problem you can switch to their favourites or something more age appropriate.
Here an Occupational Therapist shares a quick and simple calming massage series. It’s great for children who are over-stimulated or excited, and very helpful before bed or when they need to concentrate.
This video demonstrates hand and lower arm massage techniques, which can be helpful when out and about as a “portable” quick fix.
Have your child lie down (face up or down). Gently roll the therapy ball along their body up from their feet, being careful not to put too much pressure on their abdomen. Roll the ball across each arm and ask if they want to try how it feels on their head (not face!). Check with your child if they want more pressure or less (harder or softer).
Sometimes therapists call this “cookie dough”- you can think of your own name for the activity together. Many children find this very calming and it can be helpful before bedtime or when feeling overwhelmed by stresses during the day.
Using the therapy ball can help make this “safe” for carers or other adults to provide the benefits of massage without direct physical contact, which may be helpful in school or other circumstances. It’s also great for children who don’t like being touched.