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What issues arise when giving reflexology to children or teenagers?
Like most adults, children love reflexology; it calms and relaxes them, it helps with the joys, fears, bewilderment and excitement which are all part of growing up, and, as with adults, it can have many medical benefits.
However from the perspective of the reflexologist, treating children presents challenges you do not face from your adult clients. In this article I will explore these differences, and will discuss how the reflexologist can adapt and ensure that the experience is maximally positive for both child and therapist.
Reflexology and young children
Childhood covers very distinct phases and as practitioners we need to be aware of these and of the concessions we need to make. One issue that covers most of these phases of development is that that children do not have the same vocabulary, understanding and patience as an adult.
Young children do not generally lie quietly on the couch enjoying the treatment. They like to chat and to play, often enacting what is going on in their lives, their hopes and fears. As an example, I have been treating a 4-year-old weekly for eight weeks. Initially he was wary and silent, but by week 3 he was chatting and playing. He is hyperactive, and very intelligent but has family issues (the father recently moved out) and he recently started school.
Such issues are not uncommon, but are difficult for young children to deal with. Generally they want share their day with any available listener, any stresses, upsets and exciting happenings. It tends to be brief and spontaneous. They frequently lose themselves in their own fantasy world, happily chatting away to themselves.
Thus some time during reflexology sessions with this particular child involves him enacting conversations his father, or demonstrating school scenes with the aid of toy bricks. The therapist must expect this and even welcome it as part of the treatment; indeed in this case the child is a lot calmer and happier and is interacting socially with other children since he has been receiving the treatments.
Due to young children’s short concentration span it is advisable to keep the treatments from 15-20 mins. Also as their feet are so little, it is all the time you need to give them a treatment.
Pressure needs to be very gentle when dealing with children. They let you know very quickly if any area is painful, ticklish or feels ‘funny’.
Clinically with young children it is best to avoid reflexology points involving most of the endocrine system, the exceptions being the hypothalamus when there are sleep problems, and the adrenal, which is often like a hard little pea in young children. The nervous system, lymphatics, sinuses, ear eye line and points, neck and shoulder are all good areas to do.
In most cases it is sufficient to cover the abdomen generally. The kidney, bladder and adrenal should be covered, as this aids with sleep problems and with regulating children’s energy. Unfortunately due to bad diet the colon often needs a lot of work.
Teenagers and reflexology
Unlike young children they have no problem sleeping through a treatment – sleep indeed tends to be one of their preferred states. Another contrast is that teenagers can also generally give an accurate history at the start of a reflexology treatment.
Teenage emotional issues and the therapist
Teenagers tend to be very reticent when discussing their emotional background, giving only brief comments such as ‘exams’ or ‘been in trouble’. If they have an emotional reaction such as ‘watering eyes’ and you ask them if they would like a tissue they tend to respond by saying they are fine and attempting to keep their eyes open through the rest of the treatment.
In contrast there are also chatty teenagers who do not rest or sleep during reflexology sessions. Often both overly anxious and high achievers, they generally manage to talk without giving much away about themselves or what is happening in their lives.
Interestingly, teenagers are often happy to discuss, albeit briefly, issues such as the death of someone close to them, as it does not reflect on their behaviour. These are safe subjects which convey an emotional state they are happy to share at the start of a session.
They are also happy to share with you how the treatment makes them feel. Generally they love them and are very enthusiastic. I suspect there is a fear that if they do not show this enthusiasm they will not be allowed back for another treatment.
Depression, anxiety and stress are common among teenagers, which is why reflexology is so effective for them. Fortunately reflexologists tend to get the sweeter and more grateful side of their natures; sulks can occur but are less common. Occasionally when they are going through a very emotional time they may not want the treatment; they are not necessarily aware it will help and are often fearful of demonstrating an emotional reaction.
Unlike young children they are a lot more curious about what you are doing. If you work on a sensitive area they let you know by asking what the section you are working on correlates to. The older the teenager the more curious they are, and the more open about what is happening in their lives.
In all cases the reflexologist needs to be aware of such emotional sensitivity and react appropriately.
The main physical symptoms teenagers present are colds/flu, hayfever, headaches, and back pain, the latter often due to carrying books or menstrual problems. A vast majority of all children’s necks feel unbelievably crunchy, perhaps is due to playing computer games, and most of them are unaware of the presenting tension.
Clinically it is still best to avoid a lot of the endocrine system in younger teenagers, with the exception of the reproductive organs, adrenal and hypothalamus. If you are giving a partial treatment it is advisable to treat the heart, as erratic, swinging emotions give a reaction there. Unlike young children the adrenal tends to be soft and exhausted and so needs to be treated to give them energy.
Unlike young children you generally see teenagers without a parent/carer being present. It is therefore important to explain the nature of the treatment at the first session, and that all information they give you is confidential, except in cases of child protection, self-harm, harming someone else or having a communicable disease. In such cases it is naturally the responsibility of the therapist to contact the relevant authorities.
Working with children’s organisations
If your contact with the child is through an organisation such as a charity, or after-school-club, this organisation should have a child protection policy which the reflexologist needs to be aware of. You may also need to an enhanced disclaimer (police check) from the police if you want to work with an organisation. This should not be necessary if you are working with children independently.
Working with these organisations can be very satisfying, but also has drawbacks, most obviously that of getting a medical history from parents/carers who may not be present during the reflexology treatment, where the child patient may be unable to communicate their history.
Since signed permission will be needed before you can treat the child, I will give a consultation form out with the consent form in the hope of obtaining a detailed medical history. However my personal experience is that it tends to be very poorly filled-in.
This can be due to data protection legislation, under which the organisations often do not have or may not divulge all the relevant material. Best advice is to phone the child’s parents; having given permission for the reflexology they will generally be happy to talk.
Reflexology and children – conclusion
Children are a delight to give treatments to and respond quickly and positively to them. It is very rewarding and something I would recommend to all my fellow reflexologists.