Most spas are dedicated to serving clients in their teens and up, but according to a 2013 report by ISPA, only about 28 per cent of spas offer services to children under the age of 13. To be sure, children cannot be treated in the same way as more mature spa-goers, but they are certainly in need of the wellness benefits of the spa as much as their parents.
Adding spa treatment options for children makes sense for Spa du Manoir Saint-Sauveur, says Spa Director Sonya Bonin. “We have lots of families coming to Manoir Saint-Sauveur for weekends or vacation, and they are coming with their kids,” she says. “We have a kids club where they can stay and they have access to everything – to the spa outside, to the swimming pool, everything.”
Manoir Saint-Sauveur offers a unique treatment plan for spa guests aged four to 12 called Bambino Treatments. Children can come with their parents or alone to take advantage of chocolate-vanilla or green apple massages, a chocolate exfoliating treatment, and a manicure and pedicure.
“We have a small wardrobe for them so they can change and have the same services as their parents,” Bonin says. “They have their own locker in the locker room, they have their treatment with the therapist, and after that we give them a piece of chocolate to finish the treatment.”
Manoir Saint-Sauveur takes great care to treat little guests like grown-ups, but adapts some elements to suit a younger audience. The massages are shorter, only 45 minutes, and Bonin says that therapists use dynamic, energetic movements during the massage treatments, rather than long flowing movements, so that the children stay awake and engaged. The focus, Bonin says, is not so much therapeutic as it is fun.
Spa du Manoir Saint-Sauveur only uses female spa therapists for the Bambino Treatments and they are specially trained on how to provide service to and talk to younger clientele. One key is constant communication with the child who is receiving the service. “We tell them everything… just to keep them engaged during the treatment and stimulated by the service that we’re giving,” Bonin says.
Nicole Nifo of Fully Alive Wellness Centre, knows what it takes to keep young clients engaged. The Registered Massage Therapist specializes in pediatric massage and mainly works with children aged three to 10 years old. Nifo uses stories, songs and finger puppets in her massage sessions, all to get her young clients comfortable with the experience. When she is telling a massage story, Nifo tries to incorporate elements that appeal to the child she is working with and get the child involved in the telling of the story.
“We try to make it fun,” she says. “Each action word has an action with the hand. If they’re talking about a dog walking we’ll use our fingertips moving along their back or if the dog is having a bath, we’ll move our whole hand in a circular motion.” After a session, Nifo will ask her client what part of the story they enjoyed the most, which allows her to assess what hand motions the child liked best and can repeat those in later sessions.
“It helps to empower them in their bodies, it helps them to understand positive physical boundaries, because we don’t want them to think anybody can just touch them,” Nifo says. “People have to ask permission and they get to tell people how they want to be touched.” With all her clients, Nifo has the child choose which part of their body they want massaged, based on a muscle chart she shows them. “We’ll get a muscle chart and we’ll get them to point out which areas that they want touched or which areas are feeling sore, and there’s a code word that if they want us to stop if they’re uncomfortable or they don’t like it,” she says.
Lying face down on a massage table is a vulnerable position, especially for a child, so Nifo says she usually starts a session with the child sitting up with their clothes on. “Then, if they’re comfortable, they can lie on the massage table and then they can undress appropriately if they feel comfortable with that.”
Parents are always present during Nifo’s sessions – for legal reasons and to put the child at ease – and she uses the opportunity to educate them about how they can give their child massages at home. This is especially important for her clients who have Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. “[Massage is] most beneficial for the special needs kids when it’s done daily and unfortunately I can’t be there every day,” Nifo says.
Children with Down syndrome are often not very verbal so they can’t tell their parents what parts of their body are hurting. Nifo teaches parents how to pick up cues from the child during a massage that can tell them what the child likes and doesn’t like.
For her clients with cerebral palsy, Nifo pays special attention to their muscles. “Kids with cerebral palsy have something called spasticity and also some of their muscles may be very lax as well, they don’t have a lot of tone to them, whereas the other side of their body will be very toned, where they can’t necessarily even relax the muscles enough to walk,” she says. “Massage is very useful in helping to relax their body.”
Massage is not all Nifo offers her young clients, however. She also teaches breathing and visualization techniques to help children cope with stress. She also incorporates aromatherapy into her massage sessions and asks the child to pick out their own essential oil.
With stress and anxiety on the rise for adults and children alike, there is a need, now more than ever, for spas to offer services for children.
Photo crédit for image : SpaBusiness_YoungClients.jpg : Manoir Saint-Sauveur
Tips for treating kids at the spa
Make it fun!
Whether it’s finger puppets and massage stories, or simply maintaining a running dialogue with the child, make sure your young client is awake and engaged.
Keep treatments short.
“Don’t start with a one-hour massage for a five-year-old. Work your way up to half an hour, 45 minutes,” RMT Nicole Nifo says. “Older kids between 10 and 16 could definitely do an hour, but have shorter duration times for the younger guys.”
Involve the child in the treatment.
Get them to pick out a signature scent for aromatherapy treatments or ask them what areas of their body they would like to focus on. It helps give the child a sense of control and reinforces positive physical boundaries.
Add a special touch.
End the treatment with a special treat, like a chocolate.
Have a special spa day for children and parents.
Try out a package for younger spa-goers before making it a permanent addition to the spa menu. Organize a kids’ spa day or, as Nifo suggests, offer a spa package for families where you teach them how to massage each other. Organize a massage train where one family member massages another while someone massages them in a line.