Those who know me will probably remember the time I had a spa experience in Turkey that made me cry.
After a relaxing session in the hamman, the lovely Turkish lady who didn’t speak English, dried me off. She patted me down with a soft towel, gently stroking my face so tenderly it reminded me of my mum. I felt so nurtured and cared for, I embarrassingly started welling up. I luckily managed to control my instinct to simply start sobbing and nuzzle my face in her chest. As a mother, who cuddles. kisses, strokes hair and pats dry a lot, I realised that I needed some of that care myself. And I missed my mum.
Touch is a powerful thing. It is a universal communication that transcends language. Physical affection that is wanted causes the release of oxytocin. It helps to nurture feelings of trust and connectedness and it also reduces cortisol (the stress hormone). Twenty seconds of affectionate touching (hugging, back rubs, gentle stroking) is enough to trigger the release of oxytocin. In fact, touch is one of the most critical components of the human experience, with the ability to significantly impact your physical, emotional and mental health. It makes me so sad when I hear about so many elderly people, both living alone and in care homes. One of the things that they miss most is touch Hopefully caregivers, nurses and relatives are aware of this.
I saw a recent article about how in schools, teachers withholding touch to their pupils can be damaging. It goes so far to say that it may even be a form of child abuse. You can read the article here. In an increasing litigious society, staff who work in schools have been concerned that comforting children who they have fallen over, even putting a comforting arm around a shoulder when they have become upset, can leave them open to accusations. I hope that we are now moving away from this.
In Relax Kids, step 4 of our 7 step programme is massage. Ideally we get the children to do peer massage, to develop their empathetic skills and develop a connection with others. It is an important and enjoyable stage in preparing the body and mind for relaxation. It has the following benefits;
- Lowers stress levels and relieves tiredness
- Helps relax muscles and calms the nerves
- Promotes better social contact, respect and communication
- Improves circulation and stimulates lymphatic system
BUT some children don’t like to be touched. I understand that. I have a friend who would find the idea of going for a massage the opposite of relaxing – she would hate it! Of course we respect children who do not want to take part, we teach them self massage techniques or give them some of our massage balls to experiment with. We always teach children to ask for consent too. Knowing that you are in control of who, what and how you are touched is very important. Some children who are on the austitic spectrum, especially those with sensory issues, need a lot of preparation, allowing them as much control as possible.
I remember one boy who struggled with his relationship with another child in particular. It took a few sessions, but gradually over a few weeks he moved from a reluctant self massage to observer, to participating in a massage train to paired peer massage with the other child. I watched carefully as he checked if his touch was too hard or too soft and drew gentle lion footprints and butterfly wings on the other child’s back. That connection was just as valuable for both children and I honestly believe that this gentle physical connection was their biggest aide in restoring their relationship.
Now GO AND GIVE SOMEONE A HUG!