Using Massage to Aid the Sensory Systems

Massage can be hugely beneficial for children with sensory issues. 

Massage provides proprioceptive input which can help regulate our child’s sensory system.  

Rhythmic and predictable movements of massage are helpful both for calming our child or preparing them for a challenging situation. Slow pressure movements can help our child to regulate their breathing and heart rate without being asked to do this consciously.  

Massage is also a lovely  non-verbal way to communicate tenderness andcare, andbuild the connection between child and caregiver. It promotessecure attachment, releases feel-good hormones and helps our child feel loved and cherished. 

The idea of learning to massage can be daunting, but there is lots of great information out there to help us get started – including the helpful videos we’ve shared below.
Massaging for relaxation

Child/Caregiver Bonding
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.

Wakes up bodies
For children who are not very sensitive (hyposensitive) to touch, massage can help wake up their bodies and muscles – improving coordination and movement skills as their body awareness grows.

Reduces Sensitivities
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.

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 – particularly if your child is not moving very much or struggles to reach gross motor milestones.

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. A hand massage can be helpful when out and about as a “portable” quick fix when a child needs to be calmed or reassured.

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. 

Suitable Videos

Massaging whilst hand-washing

Thank you for visiting Gympanzees’ website. All information provided by Gympanzees is of general nature and for educational / entertainment purposes. It is up to you as the parent or family member to judge what is appropriate and safe for your child. No information provided by Gympanzees should replace any professional information and advice that you have been given and speak to your therapist or doctor if you are unsure of anything. Should you use any of the information provided by Gympanzees, you do so at your own risk and hold Gympanzees harmless from any and all losses, liabilities, injuries or damages resulting from any and all claims.