By Anasuya Basil, NC, Dipl. ABT, CST
Does your child have frequent stomach-aches
for no known reason?
Are you concerned that a recent trauma is
harming your child’s health?
Life has a way of throwing you curve balls that jangle your nerves no matter what your age. A big part of staying healthy and sane in an over stimulating, hyper-paced, modern world depends on the regular cultivation of a calm interior foundation that you return to after responding to stress. Parents, family members, teachers, and caregivers help kids develop and return to that peaceful state of mind by listening to and acknowledging their experiences, as well as simply playing, eating, and unwinding together. But when fear and anxiety are deeply triggered by a divorce, a death in the family, a move to a new school, or a medical crisis, it is harder to reset the stress response back to that calm place. It is possible to get stuck in the alarm state.
Non-Verbal Expression of Feelings
A six-year-old child might not say, “I’m in a state of shock after seeing my brother break his leg,” or “I’m worried that Dad left us because I’m bad.” Instead, they may use their body or behavior to express their emotions. Sometimes this shows up as frequent digestive upsets, headaches, muscle tension, or behavioral changes. CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle hands-on modality that enables me to listen closely to your child’s nervous system, and to support his or her body to reset back to a relaxed state. It is complimentary to other therapies from psychotherapy to occupational, physical, or speech therapy.
Stomach Pain Caused by Stress
Brianna was nine years old when she developed severe pain in her abdomen. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, but in spite of multiple tests, nothing was found. The next week, the stomach pain hit again and she met more doctors who ran more tests. When no physical problem was revealed, her mom brought her to a psychotherapist who noticed the child’s body tension and referred her to me for CST.
Brianna lay fully clothed on the bodywork table playing with a fuzzy pony while her mom sat on one side with her fingers resting on her daughter’s knee. I placed my hands lightly on Brianna’s body and tuned in to the quality of the muscle tension, and the rhythm of the cerebral spinal fluid circulating around her brain and spinal cord. I felt her body soften and loosen.
Sometimes Brianna’s mom would read children’s books out loud to her. I noticed that if there was a dramatic part in the story, such as when the brave, lovable dog was paddling in a stormy ocean to rescue its caregiver, Brianna’s whole body would tense with anxiety. This showed how powerfully her nervous system switched from a relaxed state to a highly aroused state. We talked about this and she started to notice it too, take a deep breath, and consciously soften her response. Over a series of sessions, her nervous system reset and she became calmer with fewer to no digestive problems.
Balancing The Nervous System
CST helps to balance the autonomic nervous system which has two parts. The sympathetic nervous system scans our surroundings and activates the fight or flight hormones as soon as danger is detected. The parasympathetic nervous system slows this response so we can rest and digest, as well as repair and heal. If these two parts are out of balance, symptoms emerge such as:
Viva Las Vagus
CST brings healthy tone to the vagus nerve, which leaves the brain through the jugular foramen at the base of the skull and weaves through many organs including the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. The vagus nerve is in charge of the parasympathetic nervous system, and for bringing us back to our calm center after stress. When you have good vagal tone, you recover quickly from stress and have better mental and physical health. Other ways to increase vagal tone are meditation, exercise, nature connection, singing, creative flow, laughing with friends and family, prayer, and gratitude.
A Child’s Social Ecology of Healing
A child is woven into a web of social connections, and they are highly sensitive to both verbal and non-verbal messages. Our brains have structures that allow us to recognize and reflect signals that we receive from others which are then integrated into our own neural pathways. In Brianna’s case, I knew that her parents had difficult jobs where they were responsible for others in life or death situations. Even though they did not share with their daughter the pain and grief they encountered at work, I sensed the possibility that Brianna read the tension in their bodies and temporarily internalized it.
Including Family In the Sessions
I see the powerful and loving bonds that children have with their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and others, and I know this is their key resource. That is why I include parents in the sessions by having them sit close by, touching, reading to, or playing with their kids while I work on them. I will even make a little time for some hands-on work for the parents so they get a feel for what I am doing. I also encourage parents to get full sessions for themselves. That way, both parent and child are better able to mirror to each other that deeply relaxed sense of physical and mental integration that is the gift of CranioSacral Therapy.