Along with CHOP’s sleep hygiene guidelines, there are several simple, integrative practices that you and your child can do each night to promote a restful sleep. One practice is massage which is done by the parent or caregiver.
Massage can be used to provide relaxation and decrease stress. It has also been found to decrease pain and improve sleep.
Consider turning out the lights or dimming them. Make sure all electronic devices and screens are off. If your child enjoys calming music, it is OK to have it playing softly or feel free to sing to your child.
Once your child is tucked in bed, try one of these simple routines below. We have added a script for what to say during the massage if you would like to use it to help your child relax while you massage them. Feel free to use any calming thoughts, meditations, or stories to help your child end their day on a peaceful note. Your child can talk during the massage, just remind them to speak softly. Remember even a short slow-paced massage can be helpful. Start with a massage for 5 to10 minutes a night. Then you may increase the time if that feels right to you.
Before you begin, wash your hands with warm soap and water.
Ground, relax and focus: This means you are in a calm state of mind and can dedicate some time to focus your attention on your child. You may want to take 3 deep breaths to begin. For more ideas, view our videos on breathwork or caring touch.
Ask permission: Even if you child is unable to talk, ask if they are ready to try a massage. Look for cues that your child is ready to receive massage. Good signs that your child is ready are: making eye contact, restless but calmed by the touch of a hand, a calm state of being, and being interactive. You know your child best. Never force your child to be massaged.
When to avoid massage: If your child has an unmanaged fever or has received vaccinations within the past 72 hours, do not use these techniques. Nurturing Touch is always alright. If you are unsure about massaging your child in certain areas due to lines, wounds, or other healthcare issues, avoid the area and talk to your healthcare provider.
Massage for sleep routine
Introduces your touch and pressure on the skin. Can be calming to the nervous system.
- Place both hands gently onto your child with palms touching skin or clothing. The pressure should be steady with full hand contact (you can use a slightly firmer pressure).
- Lift hands and reposition moving from close to further away from the head and heart.
- Repeat 3 times.
Script: Now it is time to say goodbye to the day. It is time for rest. We are going to try some massage if you are up for it. Where would you like me to try tonight? Your back, legs, hands, feet, or head? If your child says “no, not tonight” or their actions tell you they are not ready, then thank them and try another night.
This stroke can provide a calming, reassuring effect.
- Starting at the top, use your hands or fingers (depending on the size of your child or body part) to “draw” large circles on the body part using gentle steady pressure.
- Begin to move downward, covering the whole body part.
- Repeat 3 times, starting from the top.
Script: The sun has set. It is time to slow down our minds and bodies. As I do slow circles, imagine with each circle you get more sleepy, restful, and calm. Take a deep breath in with me and let it out. In (pause) and out (pause). One last big breath in and let it out with a sigh.
Soothing finger comb
This stroke helps relax and calm the muscles giving a focused gentle firm pressure.
- Start with your fingertips on either side of spine or at the top of the area. Make sure to adjust pressure so as not to tickle.
- Begin to move with a slow steady pace outward or downward in straight or wavy lines. Cover the area and move back and forth.
- Repeat 3 times, starting from the top.
Script: Imagine you are floating on clouds. Feel the support underneath you. Notice how comfortable you feel. Relax your head. Relax your shoulders. Relax your arms. Relax your hips. Relax your legs. Relax your feet. Feel your body get heavy.
Resting hands on one area (without picking up hands).
Script: Good night (list anyone important to your child, pets, family members). It is time for sleep. The stars are shining and the moon is out. Good night. I love you and you are so loved. You can add in a kiss or hug or blow a kiss (whatever works best for you and your child).
- Caring Touch Ideas for Parents and Caregivers
- Infant Massage: Coconut Oil and Aloe Vesta Lotion
- Massage Therapy Services (video)
- Therapeutic Caring Touch Video Series
- Integrative Medicine - Primary Care Perspectives Podcast
Visit chop.edu/IH-resources for more.