Why teach children to do massage?
I have taken the Internationally Recognised MISP Massage for Children programme and am now an instructor.
The aim of the programme is to teach children aged 4-12 a series of movements that children can use with a friend or parent to show positive touch. Positive touch reduces stress and anxiety and promotes well-being and regulation. A child who can self regulate is available to learn and have good relationships. Even more importantly training children in massage gives an opportunity for children to practice asking for and giving (or withholding) consent, to consider how they like their body to be touched (or not) and become familiar with knowing and asking for what they want.
There is also a mini-MISP programme for 2-4 year olds to accustom children to asking and answering consent questions (Grace and courtesy to a Montessori teacher) and practice at a few steps that children at this age are co-ordinated enough to do.
An holistic approach to learning
Massage for children involves very careful, non-competitive movement of the sort which would grow out of the Montessori lessons. We listen, we move carefully, we inhibit actions we don’t want to take and we make certain actions we do. It is a very good way for children to show they are respectful of others and caring. Children who do not want to take part can watch and do so with materials which modifies the amount of sensory stimulation or join in fully when they are ready. Children use their audio, kinaesthetic and visual channels to listen to instructions, feel into their muscle memory and to watch examples of the steps and the beautiful hand drawn cards used to help the children learn the sequence. The sequence is taught over a few weeks and the child can practice memorising what they learnt before and building on it.
Stories and songs can be used to help the child remember the steps or stories can be told which the children are free to explore with movement. Children are also encouraged to play number games. Links are made between concrete and abstract thinking and the child is free to explore within carefully set boundaries.
Learning Massage for older children
In Chaing Mai, Thailand I took a training to teach Thai Massage, we went to a Juvenile Detention Centre to teach the teenage boys there the sequence we had learnt and been practicing. A few of the boys are able to do this as a career when they leave – if they show sufficient dedication they can begin an apprenticeship when they leave. For most boys this is an opportunity to experience positive, safe touch, to relax and to be with their friend in a new way. They listened and focused so well because we were providing a culturally relevant and interesting experience they wanted to take part in and were emotional when we left. I hope they are in better situations now.
As part of our training we also massaged old people – gentle hand massages and back rubs. In Thailand it is understood that to be healthy involves touch, community and some fun. It is not a necessary extra and as medical treatment is expensive for many people massage is a real way for families to be together and look after each other.
In these trainings the adult trainer never touches the child, the children work on each other and the massage is done over clothes. All participants are free not to participate in all or any part they dislike and they are encourage to reflect about how it feels to receive touch and what their preferences are so it is empowering. When you become accustomed to asking your body how it feels you are beginning to learn the skills of Focusing which are so necessary for self understanding and processes such as Nonviolent Communication. You are taking care of yourself and discovering that it is more important to know yourself and be true to yourself than to please other people, in fact you don’t owe it to the person giving you a massage to say it is pleasant when it isn’t. Having children with this depth of self-knowledge and clarity to speak out can transform their lives and our societies as a critical mass of us move into positive relationships with our bodies, are responsible for ourselves and ready to listen to others.