At the Craniosacral Therapy Center of Grand Rapids, we are a kid-friendly practice! In fact, we specialize in treating infants, toddlers, young and older children with craniosacral therapy. But most parents, when they first hear about it, feel a little bit panicked and think: wait, does my child have to sit or lay completely still?
In fact, many families come to us stressed because another provider expects their child to act like a little adult - walk in to the room, unafraid, lay on the table for an hour without wiggling or talking, and submit to whatever treatment is offered without question or resistance. And for 99 percent of kids, that’s just not going to happen!
Let’s talk about what a craniosacral visit looks like with a child, and how our office works with children of any age in terms of both philosophy and practice.
Craniosacral Therapy for Children: It’s All About Trust!
If a random stranger wanted to come up to you and start touching your body, even something as routine as a handshake or a hand on your shoulder, you’d probably feel weirded out! And that’s how most kids feel when they walk into a therapy appointment! They don’t know us, they often don’t know why they’re here, and they don’t know what’s going to happen.
So for us, as therapists and even our office staff, it’s all about building trust as the foundation of our treatment. When we’re nervous or unsure, our body can go into fight or flight mode, prompting our nervous system to ramp up, instead of relax, which is our ultimate goal with craniosacral therapy. So without trust, we can’t do our work.
Building trust can look like many things. It looks like getting down on a child’s level and greeting them quietly and warmly. It looks like letting them choose a book or a toy to play with while they’re waiting or inside the treatment room. It might be the provider reading them a book before or while they get started. It means reading the child’s verbal and nonverbal cues before going any further.
In a craniosacral therapy session, we talk about a cycle of trust, treatment and assimilation. This means that the provider builds trust with a client, creating the kind of relaxed environment where they can provide treatment, and that environment allows their body to accept the treatment and assimilate the releases into their body’s ecosystem.
In adults, we see this cycle occur over the whole of an hour-long session, but with babies and young children, the cycle happens several times during a session. That means a provider needs to adjust their expectations, timing and treatment to fit where a child is at. If they don’t, the treatment won’t have the same healing effects that it would otherwise, and the session will likely be stressful and frustrating for everyone.
But Does My Kid Have to Sit Still?
No! A child in a craniosacral therapy session rarely sits still, except for maybe by the end, when they sometimes fall asleep in blissed relaxation! Both our therapists have extensive experience with toddlers and young children and appreciate their energy and playfulness.
With newborns and infants, a parent is in the room with the baby, sometimes breastfeeding, holding or changing positions so that the baby can be comfortable. If the baby is comfortable, the therapist may hold them while looking out the window or playing with a toy. The parent and the therapist move and adjust according to the baby’s needs and cues. We always respond when a baby is crying or showing signs of distress. The therapist listens for the type of cry and responds accordingly with trying to comfort them or taking a moment so they can connect with a caregiver. Often, colicky babies who come in distressed will calm down within a few minutes of treatment.
Craniosacral therapy is an incredibly gentle therapy that uses just 5 grams of pressure, or the weight of a nickel, on the body. With babies, we often do this holding them or while they lie on a table or in a parent's arms, breastfeeding when needed. We shift and move our hands with the child’s need to move or our need to work on a different area, dynamically working together to find what works. Often, parents tell us that while we are treating them, they notice a shift in their child — a change in expression, a deep breath, a more relaxed posture — before they notice us moving our hands.
For toddlers, we have toys, games and books to keep them busy. Our therapists are trained to work with them as they play and go at their pace. Our treatment rooms are surrounded by trees, and many times young children like to watch the squirrels playing or birds swooping as they get therapy. If a toddler resists treatment, verbally or nonverbally, the therapist immediately responds by backing off, and potentially trying again later with permission. Usually, when we revisit that area again later, it’s more well received and we are able to spend the predominant amount of time in a session hands-on.
For older children, we often see if they feel comfortable lying down on the table, but we can adjust if need be. It’s okay if a child needs to play a game on a tablet or listen to an audio book. Our therapists inform the child about what they’re doing and ask permission to work on certain parts of the body, for example, “Can we do some mouth work now?” If the child says no, the therapist adjusts, knowing that trust is built when someone respects our boundaries.
It’s not uncommon for children to conk out, completely asleep by the end of a session, even if they came in as a ball of energy. We have young clients who love a particular receptionist and want to spend time playing with them before or after a session. We find that once a child has had one or two successful sessions, they themselves can feel the relaxation and peace in their body and often will ask for another session themselves. One mom would tell us about her young pre-school aged son, who would exclaim with a sigh, “I love this place!” every time they pulled into our parking lot!
Should a craniosacral therapist have experience working with young children?
Not all craniosacral therapists have experience and training working with young children, and that’s very important to remember when finding a therapist to work with your child. Finding the right therapist will make the money and time you invest in craniosacral therapy a much better experience. Don’t be afraid to ask what experience and training a therapist has before signing up for a session. For more, read our guide to finding a craniosacral therapist to work with children.
What is the craniosacral therapy experience like for parents and children?
We’re excited to share some reviews and testimonials from parents of babies, toddlers and older children to give you some perspective. We’re very proud of our work with children and proud to be a place where families feel comfortable and accepted, just as they are and their children are.
“From the moment we met Kelly, I knew we were in capable, compassionate and caring hands. She is highly skilled and even in just 2 visits has helped my 6 week old baby with her fully body tension, decreased fussiness and improved feeding. She is helping us as we prepare for a tongue tie revision and we feel so incredibly supported. I would recommend her to anyone who feels overwhelmed with a baby who’s tongue tied, fussy or generally looking for holistic support in the newborn phase!”
“Kelly has done incredible work on both of my newborns after their tongue tie releases to help release tension throughout the body, which made breastfeeding much less painful for me and much more successful overall! She is wonderful with the little ones, always accommodating to their needs and temperaments-- she will treat them standing up, bouncing, while nursing-- whatever it takes. Highly recommend craniosacral with Kelly if you have a baby or child with oral ties. She is a gem!
"Kelly is an extremely patient, knowledgeable and flexible clinician. She applied play-based and creative techniques to help my 16-month toddler get used to oral and physical CST to help her neck tension and solid intake improve fall of 2016. She also provided me with maternal emotional support as I was going through a challenging time after my daughter's re-attached lip revision. She provided us with many helpful ideas, home programs and community resources to reach some decisions about our next steps. I highly recommend her healing hands!"
Your Child Is Welcome Here
We hope this post relieves some of the worries and tension you might have seeking craniosacral therapy for your baby or young child. Please know that we are open to your questions and concerns as parents, and it’s our goal that everyone has a good experience when they come in for a session. Book your child’s intake session today, and we’ll look forward to meeting your precious little one in our office.