Massage is a wonderful way to connect with your child, and it can be a great technique to send him off to sleep without tears or guilt. After the books are read and the last feeding has finished, you can use a short and restful massage to relax him and assure him that it is time to go to sleep.
Dr. Harvey Karp writes about the fact that bedtime starts at breakfast: having a calm and rewarding day in which a child feels that he received enough attention from loved ones, enough play and enough emotional support will allow him to cooperate with bedtime and separate at night with fewer issues. Some days aren’t so blissful. Commutes are too long, multi-tasking gets in the way of fun time, and children have their own mini-dramas in their own life at daycare or school. One way to follow Dr. Karp’s advice to have daily “time-ins” and to support his feed-the-meter concept is to use a nighttime massage routine. It can be something that both parties look forward to at the end of a busy day.
As a massage therapist, I teach parents custom routines that are flexible and easy to learn, but the very best massages are the kind in which both parent and child are relaxed and receptive. Some children love back massage, some like foot and hand massage, and some relax best with a full-body treatment. Your child’s reaction will tell you the direction to take. The age and temperament of your child will dictate some of the choices of strokes and how long the massage takes.
A few suggestions:
- use food-grade unscented oil until you are certain that your child’s skin is not sensitive to essential oils. Avoid lotions and oils that are synthetic. You never know when they will lick their fingers, and if it isn’t of a quality that you would put on your food, it isn’t acceptable on your child’s skin either.
- dim the lights, including computer/tablet/TV screens. This isn’t the time to read the captions on your show.
- you can use music or be quiet. Not every child can relax with multi-sensory stimulation at bedtime. You can talk gently, or just smile and make eye contact. Again, your child’s responses will tell you how to craft your massage environment.
- use slow and rhythmic strokes for maximum relaxation. If possible, try to have one stroke blend into the next without lifting both hands off your child.
- use a full-arm, full-leg, or full-torso welcoming and finishing stroke. It helps your child develop greater body awareness and is an elegant way to deliver your massage.
- enjoy yourself; research has shown that the providers of massage also receive benefits such as greater oxytocin levels ( the brain neurochemical associated with attraction and attachment).
- do not be surprised if your young infant (under 6 months) only tolerates a 15-20 minute massage, and then becomes fussy. Massage can be a lot of stimulation for a young baby, and you will have to experiment with the quality and quantity of the strokes that bring your little one to bliss. A brief massage may be just perfect for him!