Toddler Massage - by Erica Neser-Nieuwenhuis

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Massage is known for its healing and balancing powers. It can be beneficial for everyone - from very young to very old. Hippocrates, regarded as the father of modern medicine, said in the fourth century BC, "The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day." Not many of us can afford to go for a massage every day (or even every month), but to give your child a regular massage costs nothing and can be immensely enjoyable for both of you. This article focuses primarily on massage for toddlers (for the purpose of this article, children from one to four years old).


Relaxation - Toddlers' lives can be very frustrating because they want to do more than their skills allow. Massage can be helpful in easing their stress and helping them (and you!) unwind after a busy-busy-busy day.
Bonding - Toddlers can be extremely demanding. Massage can help restore harmony between parent and child and strengthen their mutual bond. It allows focused attention on your little one - real quality time.
Stimulation - Massage aids digestion, stimulates the nervous and immune systems, promotes blood circulation and improves suppleness and skin texture.
Relief - Massage can help promote regular sleep patterns, and ease common complaints such as tummy ache, constipation, and growing pains.

Tips For Massaging Toddlers

If you have been massaging your little one since birth, you may find it hard to 'let go' of the massage routine that has worked so well until now.
Toddlers like to call the shots. Make him feel like he is in charge of the action.
Toddlers love saying NO. It helps to give them some choices, such as, "Would you like me to massage your legs or your back tonight?"
Get dad in on the action - include some physical rough and tumble wrestling games (even though this isn't really massage, it is still physical closeness and touch). Not too wild before bed time, though!
Allow your toddler to massage you sometimes. It can also be an expression of his love for you. Give him a tiny amount of aqueous cream rather than oil. Lie back and enjoy your turn. Feet and back work best. Let him improvise with "techniques."

When To Massage

Bathtime: Massage your toddler while he is sitting in the bath. You can sing, "This is the way we wash our arms…" while rubbing soap into his arms with firm strokes.
Bedtime - Storytime: Bedtime is probably the most suitable time. A relaxed child is usually calmer, goes to sleep more easily and generally sleeps better. It also gives you a chance to spend some quiet minutes with him. Blend a story and massage - children love it!
Anytime - Massage On The Run: Be opportunistic - if your little one has bumped his head, sit him on your lap and gently stroke the bruise, or whatever part is at hand. Massage him while looking at pictures with your little one. Even if it is just half a minute of positive, loving touch, it counts!

How To Massage

Oil - Use a natural oil such as grapeseed or sweet almond oil. Cream, gel and lotion can also be used.
How Long? Anything from 20 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on your child's personality and mood at that particular time.

Legs & Arms
Wrap your hand around his thigh, then slide your hand towards his ankle. Repeat with your other hand, one hand following the other in a smooth rhythm.
Rub the soles of his foot from heel to toes with your thumbs, using firm pressure. Rub each toe (This Little Piggy).
Roll his leg between the palms of your hands.

Make paddling strokes on his tummy, with flat hands, from rib line to hips.
Make clockwise circles on his tummy, using flat fingertips.

Place your hands flat on his chest, then stroke outwards and back to your starting position (in a heart shape).

Same as chest.
Place your hands across his back and stroke in opposite directions.
Comb with firm fingers from neck to bum.

General Massage Tips

Ask your child's permission before you begin.
Use firm pressure. It is more calming than light stroking.
Use long, smooth, slow movements.
Repeat each stroke a few times.

By Erica Neser-Nieuwenhuis, Infant Massage Instructor, author of Baby Sleep Guide and mother of three (including a toddler). Published in Your Baby Magazine, January 2005. For Erica's fun songs and rhymes and other massage ideas, email Sally.
For more information on Baby and Toddler Massage, please contact The International Association of Infant Massage Head Office on 011-886 2661 or 084-5875-669. Website:

© Erica Neser-Nieuwenhuis. Erica is the author of Baby Sleep Guide. See for more info.

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