Respecting Physical Boundaries

The topic of boundaries seems to be popping up everywhere! What exactly are boundaries and how do we work with them in massage therapy?

Physical boundaries are essentially the way in which we define how others interact with us. It includes our personal space, privacy, and our bodies.

When working with children it is important to teach and model what physical boundaries are and respect the child as they begin to build their boundaries. As a massage therapist, I request permission from my pediatric clients before beginning the massage. This is because children are still learning how to understand and process their bodies, and respecting a child’s independence is crucial to helping them build a good relationship with their body. Teaching healthy physical boundaries helps to build bodily autonomy, self-esteem, and body awareness!

This concept of respecting physical boundaries when working with children is still a newer topic. As a general rule, I only ask permission from a child when they have a choice. In massage therapy, they always have the option to consent to the treatment or not. I design sessions to allow for time for the child and I to interact before introducing touch, which also means initial sessions often last longer than the 30 minutes their scheduled for (sometimes up to 50 minutes!).

So, if there are times that a child has a choice in being massaged or touched, when is there not a choice? If there is a medical or safety need for physical handling, say a dirty diaper or grabbing at a hot object, I won’t ask permission because there is not an option. I have found it helpful to talk children and babies through the process when there isn’t an option as the sound of a calm, soothing voice can help them regulate their nervous system. (For these particular examples I’m thinking of my experiences of spending time with children of friends.)

In my next blog post, I’ll explore the concept of consent and how to look for permission!

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