Massage For Children: Fostering Assertiveness Through Client Empowerment

Being assertive means being fully capable of  expressing one’s feelings, thoughts,  and needs directly, openly and honestly, asserting one’s rights, in a manner which is yet respectful of others. (Lloyd, 1998)  As a Massage Therapist who works with children, I have found that Therapeutic Massage has an added benefit to kids that, thus far, seems to be unmentioned in any literature, or anywhere else on the web.  My observations suggest that therapeutic massage may help kids learn to be more assertive.

“How is this so?”, one is likely to ask.  It’s not as though having sore muscles soothed, in and of itself, has any obvious connection to increased assertiveness.  Rather, it’s about the manner in which  we orient our clients of all ages, the young, the middle aged, and the elderly,  to their massage sessions, and to the therapist.

Massage for children and massage for young adults, middle aged people, retired people, and even the elderly differ significantly in some major respects from one another.  Even so, I make sure that each and every client  receives the same message verbally at the beginning of the session.  I make certain to explain that the massage therapy session should not be intolerably painful.

I explain to all of my clients, kids included, that during the session they  may feel how sore some of their muscles are.  That’s normal.  Everyone carries around a lot of stress, and kids are no different. Some muscles are tight from stress, or overworked from competitive sports training, or a plethora of other reasons. But if a muscle is sore, I explain, it shouldn’t be extremely uncomfortable or intolerably painful while I’m working on that area.  If it does, that means I need to use less pressure there.

I further explain that if they feel  I’m using too much pressure, then  it’s important to immediately speak out and say so.  Reducing muscle tensions has proven benefits of reducing stress, while using more pressure than a client is comfortable with is not conducive to relaxation of any sort!   It’s just painful at that point, and can have the exact opposite effect on a clients blood pressure from a massage therapist using an appropriate amount of pressure.

With kids, this establishes the habit of being assertive, able to voice their objections to others, letting others know how they feel.  This establishes an important behavioral pattern  of realizing that they are in control of  their lives.   And, the benefits of assertiveness do not end there.  This is a key quality that we should try to help children develop, because it can help every area of their present and future.

During the first few minutes of  a session with any new  client, I make sure to ask a few times if  the pressure is comfortable. (Not so much that it’s bothersome, however!)  And this practice of verbally stating to the client that they are the one directing the session  is important for  all age groups, not just kids.  Once I let the client know that it is acceptable to let the therapist know that the pressure is too much, clients are far more likely to say so if they are not finding what I’m doing to be helpful.

I’ve found that elderly people are least likely to speak out and provide feedback without prompting.  I would have though it would have been the exact opposite situation.  Maybe it’s a vestige of their generational passive orientation toward health care providers?  I can’t be sure, but I know that it helps to ask if the pressure is OK, rather than assuming that because a client is quiet, they are comfortable.

And of course, there are times that we underestimate the amount of pressure a client can comfortably tolerate.  We all have a different pain threshold, different neurology, as well as other physiological and physical structural differences that make it almost impossible to know 100% of the time how much pressure to use with a client.  Asking is key.

Once these parameters have been established verbally, and kids know that during their massage session that they are the person in control, most children speak up without a problem.  This changes the experience from a purely passive one, to an active, engaging healing activity that the child has a lead role in.

Sometimes with younger clients, it’s good to engage in talk during the session, or at least during the beginning segment of time.  Some modalities of Children’s Massage employ storytelling and simple games, especially for the very young.

Others Children’s Massage modalities do not, including a few very popular traditional Therapeutic Massage for Children modalities that originated  in various cultures worldwide.  Simply  asking kids to talk about the activities they engage in  and where it hurts is also sufficient, and provides a better understanding to the therapist of the client as an individual with unique issues.  Of course, such a mini- interview is another key that a competent massage therapist should employ for clients of all ages.  This will be addressed in a later article.

While a good Massage Therapist has developed their sense of touch through practice, and should know, based on experience and intuition,  how much pressure to use for each client, based on muscle tone, the depth of pressure sought by the client, and other factors, it’s still most respectful to the client, both children and adults, to ask if the pressure is acceptable.

When asked if the pressure is comfortable and everything is alright, kids will reply honestly.  So of course, a Massage Therapist should always ask.  And that’s true for all age groups.  Therapists don’t have to wait for the client to voice a complaint and can be proactive and initiate the communication.

By the end of even a brief session, kids are usually gabbing away, explaining how dance class makes their legs hurt, or how a book-bag, overstuffed with a heavy hardcover textbook for every subject, is hurting their back .  Conducting a massage session where it’s clear that the client is in control fosters open  therapist-client communication.

Kids can’t be afraid of hurting their massage therapist’s feelings!  It’s important that they know a therapist is not omniscient, and it’s their role during a session to speak up immediately whenever they want the therapist to modify the technique or change the amount of pressure.  Even if it’s simply to suggest spending more time on an aching back, sore from team sports and ballet, rather than to voice a complaint about the pressure, speaking up is important during massage sessions for kids.

Likewise, children need to develop the working habit of being able to speak up with others. This is definitely a vital life skill for any kid to possess, and can prevent untold miseries all the way from childhood well into adulthood.  Assertiveness can help a kid deal with every sort of social challenge, as well as later peer pressure that inevitably goes with adolescence and the college years.

Massage for Children has many benefits proven by dozens of studies.  Increased assertiveness  is yet another benefit, one that should be better appreciated.  Of course, this is merely my observation as a Massage Therapist, and I haven’t conducted any studies proving this to be so!  And further, it’s the manner in which we communicate with our clients that seems to be the empowering factor.

Please be aware that I am not claiming that increased assertiveness  is among the various (proven) health benefits of massage therapy  (there are indeed many;  Click Here To Link to Our Massage Studies Page); however, this is just an account of what I’ve seen, purely anecdotal.    Even so, any good massage therapist would conduct their sessions as we do, keeping the client in charge, and letting the client know that this is the case.

Becoming more assertive is a key part of growing up healthily, and every opportunity kids have to develop that skill should be exercised.   Assertiveness is linked to kids’ confidence, and helps kids to stand tall, respecting their own choices and wishes in the face of challenges and challengers.

Parents and teachers should, of course, focus on helping their children develop these skills at every opportunity, as it’s that important a facet of development.  Kids who are more assertive are empowered with  greater self-strength.  Ultimately, kids who are empowered grow up to be able to better deal  with personal  relationships, work peers, and the various  unavoidable stresses of life.

Massage for Kids can help empower children to help assert themselves when encountering others, knowing that they are in control of their choices.  This may even help keep a child from being the target of bullying at school.  Assertiveness is not aggression, but seems to be a great means of  dealing with aggressive people.

Of course, there’s far more to helping kids become more assertive than having them go for a session of massage therapy!  Parents  and teaching  should focus on empowering children to have a voice, helping  kids understand that there’s a way to respectfully express themselves in every situation, and  if they feel the need to do so, then it’s their responsibility to speak up.

(Click Here to Link to Our Kids Massage At Home Info Page)

©2013 H Miller, Mountainside On Site Massage Therapy

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