Parent/Child massage emotion-focused therapy through touch


Since touch is a simple yet powerful sense, the members of the expert panel have laid the foundations for a massage programme suited to children with cancer. Designed to be performed by families without supervision, the goal is to offer moments of sharing to support the parent-child relationship.

“Through this ambitious programme, we elevate parents by offering them real skills and, above all, we help strengthen the relationship, which is often strained in these kinds of situations involving a serious illness.”
Marie Thérain, Psychomotor Therapist, Haematology/Oncology Unit, Armand-Trousseau Hospital

Reconnecting affected families

Faced with the over-medicalisation of their young child’s environment, parents sometimes feel stripped of their role, powerless even, and afraid of being awkward. This precaution added to the desire – conscious or not – to leave them alone between all the injections, exams and other treatments, can generate a physical distance, thus contributing to a level of isolation that is neither wanted nor advisable.

“I was strictly forbidden from touching my daughter for several months after her bone marrow transplant. I saw her suffering, unable to hold her in my arms or stroke her hand... These are times of intense isolation, both for them and for us.”
Ruth Hoffman, President of CCI

An emotional pause to improve quality of life: beneficial massages

We know that touch is vital for newborns from the moment of birth to promote their physical and mental development. In fact, in addition to its protective qualities, the skin is a great area for exchange. Through the reciprocity of touch, it is about giving back the skin its connecting, reassuring role. Since touch is the only sense that has a reflexive structure (to touch is to be touched!), massage is as beneficial for the person performing it as it is for the person receiving it.

In addition to strengthening family bonds, the goal is to help the child get through periods of treatment in a more relaxed state. Therapy involving massage has proven its benefits, relieving stress, pain, nausea and exhaustion. Numerous studies have shown that massages improve the quality of life and the physical and emotional state of children undergoing treatment.*

As for the parent, they fully resume their role through a moment of affectionate massage. They are not there to provide any kind of care. It is simply a short moment of tenderness where, with a few massage techniques, they become just a parent again.

‘The garden’, ‘The ant farm’, ‘Three hearts’… A simple, fun approach through gentle massage

Having identified these benefits, the working group dedicated to the project thought about the best ways to open up access to massage for children with cancer, regardless of the stage of the disease. Following a wide literature search, numerous working meetings to determine the techniques and the context to avoid any risks, seven dedicated experts (a socio-aesthetician, registered nurses, a paediatric nurse, a dancer, a psychomotor therapist and a physiotherapist) developed a ‘Parent/child massage’ programme using gentle techniques with a cocooning, reassuring, simple, fun approach.

In ‘The garden’, ‘Three hearts’, ‘Panda eyes’, ‘The snake’, ‘The little ant farm’ and ‘The locomotive’, parents can press their hands, not too hard, not too soft, not too fast, not too slow, on the arms and hands, legs and feet, back, face and head.

To help parents and children ease into it and get away from the often cold medical jargon, a guide has been designed in the form of an entertaining board game, while also noting a few essential things to be avoided. Each card describes the massage in detail, and a specific coloured sticker shows if it is suitable for babies.

Developed for international markets, the game has been designed to suit all types of families and all cultures.

“Mum followed my movements on one arm and tried to reproduce them simultaneously on the other arm. Very quickly, Juliane was calmed, allowing herself to be wrapped in relaxation, almost falling asleep. Then, ‘The ant farm’ livened up this moment of calmness. We continued to the legs with Dad, who was proud and filled with emotion. There was laughter and tears. Ultimately, we were sharing something other than the disease and invasive care!”
Isabelle Landeau, Paediatric Nurse, Mantes-la-Jolie Hospital

From caregivers to parents: testing and roll-out phases

In December 2018, five test sessions were carried out in pilot centres by the members of the working group themselves to collect feedback from the children and their families and refine the programme’s content where necessary.

Parents will be taught the massage techniques by healthcare professionals from healthcare facilities. Two volunteer caregivers, themselves trained in the programme’s techniques and true experts in the field, will in turn be able to train and assist parents in this experience, often new to them. Video tutorials will be available to help with training.

In 2019, the programme will be rolled out more widely on a national scale within healthcare structures in partnership with the FHF and Unicancer, before later being developed for international markets.

The working group dedicated to the project

  • Marie Thérain, Psychomotor Therapist, Armand-Trousseau Hospital
  • Isabelle Landeau, RN, Paediatric Nurse, Mantes-la-Jolie Hospital
  • Lise Vigneau, Physiotherapist, Armand-Trousseau Hospital
  • Valérie Petit, Dance Teacher
  • Élodie Desmoulins, RN, Toulouse University Hospital
  • Gwenaelle de la Marque, RN, Toulouse University Hospital
  • Aurélie Delabre, Socio-Aesthetician

Was this article helpful?