One brief massage per day, provided during day care throughout a one-year period, significantly decreased aggressive and deviant behavior among preschool children, according to recent research.

The study “Massage decreases aggression in preschool children: a long-term study” evaluated the effects of massage therapy on 110 children who scored high for behavior problems on the Child Behavior Checklist. These children were selected from nine day-care centers throughout Sweden, and they were mostly between ages 4 and 5. Fifty-three of the children were boys, and 57 were girls.
The children were randomly assigned to either a massage group or a control group. Those in the massage group received five to 10 minutes of massage each day during their noon period of rest. Those in the control group rested or listened to stories and music during this block of time.

Staff at each day-care center had been trained to provide massage therapy to the children. The massage protocol consisted of slow stroking and nonpainful kneading, three to four times on each part massaged. The routine started on the back and spread to other parts of the body as the child requested. Hands, arms, back and neck were the most common sites massaged.
Data was measured by having a teacher and parent fill out the Child Behavior Checklist for each subject at the start of the study. This measure was repeated three months later, and no significant difference was found between the massage and control groups over this time period, with both groups showing decreases in behavior problems.

The same measure was taken at six months into the study, and at this point, only the children in the massage group showed a significant decrease in aggressive behavior, as well as a lower score for social problems.
Following 12 months, the Child Behavior Checklist was completed for the third and final time. A continuous decrease in aggressive behavior and somatic problems was observed among those children in the massage group.

“A short daily period of massage-like touching over a period of six months seems to have some beneficial effects on the behavior of the most deviant preschool children,” said the study’s authors. “The study indicates a possibility, if confirmed, to decrease small children’s aggressive behavior easily and inexpensively within the resources of ordinary daycare.”

Authors: Anne Liis von Knorring, Anna Söderberg, Lena Austin and Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg.

Sources: Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, Sweden; Axelson’s Gymnasics Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Animal Health and Welfare, University of Agriculture, Skara, Sweden. Originally published in Acta Paediatrica (2008) 97, 1265-1269