Mini-me mani (Photo: Disney Resort & Spa)
As a working mom of three young kids, the idea of spending my vacation at a spa seems like, well, pure Nirvana. But since I’m not wealthy enough to afford Canyon Ranch or Miraval — much less a 24/7 nanny to watch my brood while I’m off getting massaged and pedicured — it’s always seemed like a pipe dream.
But now, apparently, I can go to one, with all my children in tow. Increasingly, resorts are offering a menu of spa treatments catered to the kid set —everything from ice-cream-themed manicures to kiddie yoga. Almost a quarter of spas today offer treatments for children under the age of 13, up 7 percent from just five years ago, according to the International SPA Association. And it’s a business that seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.
“A lot of hotels and resorts are beginning to realize that wellness is a family affair, and that kids in this day and age are just as stressed, if not more so, than their parents,” says Beth McGroarty, Research Director of Spa Finder Wellness, which just released a report on this trend. “But we’re not just seeing an upsurge in services like manicures and pedicures — we’re seeing places offering healthy activities like kiddie yoga classes, cooking classes, and meditation.”
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Indeed, with childhood obesity at an all-time high of nearly 18 percent and kids become glued to iPads even before they can stand (about 59 percent of children under the age of 8 use a smart phone, according to one recent survey), industry experts say the surge in kid-friendly spas is one trend that won’t go away soon.
“The number one reason men and women around the world visit a spa is to learn how to manage their stress. Giving a young person the tools to more effectively manage stress is clearly an avenue for preventative wellbeing,” said Lynne McNees, President of the International SPA Association (ISPA). “Spas have always been nimble in meeting the demand of the consumer. Parents are looking to build good, early habits in their children, and spas open the door for that.”
But do kids really need spas?
Ohmmm my gosh — is that a kid meditating? (Photo: Thinkstock)
Experts agree that there are clear physical and psychological benefits of “spa-ing,” even among very young children. “I think these sorts of programs are fantastic — resorts are picking up on something that mental health professionals have known for a long time, that wellness techniques like meditation and yoga work just as well for kids as they do in adults,” says Amy Dibernardo, LMSW, JD, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the Anita Salz Institute for Anxiety and Mood Disorders at the New York University Child Study Center.
Dibernardo, who has a 3-and-a-half-year-old son who’s already tried out kid yoga, cautions that there’s a difference between more passive forms of relaxation — like getting a mani/pedi — versus actively teaching a child a relaxation technique. “Ideally, you want kids to learn coping skills that they can take with them outside of the resort and use in everyday life so that they feel more in control of their choices and behavior,” she explains.
New York City pediatrician Dyan Hess also thinks kiddie wellness programs are a great idea. “There’s plenty of research now that finds therapies like meditation can help kids relax, reduce anxiety, and increase focus and concentration,” she says, noting her own children have benefited from sessions.
But given the fact that some of these spas can cost thousands of dollars, do you really need to schlep your little darlings across the country for a week of de-stressing? Absolutely not, say the same mental health experts, who stress that relaxation benefits are short lived if you don’t change your behavior or habits long term.
“There’s no point in getting a Mommy and me manicure/pedicure at a resort if you’re both glued to your phones while you’re getting them,” says Dibernardo.
Mary Karapetian Alvord, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at George Washington University and expert on child stress and resilience, agrees. “You want them to view the spa experience as a treat, as something that’s part of their bigger toolbox to learn to calm down,” she says. “You don’t want kids to have zero stress in their lives, since everyone needs a little bit of anxiety to keep them motivated. But you want them to gain coping strategies that they can use when they’re at home.”
Hess notes that you can always simply purchase a kids’ meditation or yoga CD to do at home with them. “Frankly, I send my children to sleep-away camp every year and they get similar benefits — they love having a few weeks away from electronics and just being outdoors all day,” she says.
If you are thinking of hitting the kiddie spas, you can help ensure that your kids become satisfied — but not spoiled — by having them “earn” the right to some of these pricy spa treatments.
“You’re not in danger of polluting the mind of your child by allowing them to take a malted milk bath at the Hershey resort, but you do want to make sure that your kids express the proper amount of gratitude and don’t just assume it’s something they’re entitled to,” advises Ron Lieber, “Your Money” columnist at the New York Times and author of The Opposite of Spoiled.
That may involve presenting them with the spa menu before you go and letting them know they can spend a certain amount (say $100) in treatments while they’re there. “Leave it up to them as to how they want to spend it, whether it’s on manicures or blow outs or massages, but that’s it,” says Lieber. The rest of the time, they can take part in the other “free” wellness offerings, like family hikes, cooking, and gardening.
In the meantime, here are a few of Yahoo Travel’s top kiddie spa picks:
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawaii
Photo: Disney Resort & Spa
This resort has offered two family friendly massages since 2011 — the ‘Ohana, a Hawaiian-style massage for up to six family members ages 5 and up (four guests for 50 min./$400; $100 each additional guest), and the Makana, where a parent learns the art of baby massage while their wee one gets rubbed down (mom, dad, and baby for 25 min./$155). They also recently launched the Keiki O Laniwai, or magical makeovers for kids, which includes hairstyles with flower and pixie dust, light makeup, manicure/pedicure and, of course, aloha dress ($135).
Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Mexico
Photo: Rancho La Puerta
Fitness resort and spa Rancho La Puerta opens up its 3,000 private acres of gardens, mountains and meadows once a year for Family Fitness Week, where family hikes, cooking classes, arts and crafts and yoga makes the luxury hotel feel more like a sleep-away summer camp. “Many parents have expressed how wonderful it is to be able to disconnect from all the technology and have time to walk across the Ranch with their kids talking and interacting and also sit down to a real family meal,” says Roberto Arjona, chief executive at Rancho La Puerta. The program has proven so popular Rancho La Puerta expects to sell out this summer (July 30-August 6) and plans to host a second week in the future. Cost: $3,400 per adult, $1,300 per child ages 14-17, and $900 for children ages 7-13. (up to two children, ages 7-17, per adult).
Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, N.Y.
Photo: Mohonk Mountain House
This Victorian castle resort is not only a National Historic Landmark; they also just this year launched “Me Too” Meditation – Mindfulness for Children, hour long private meditation sessions (cost is $160) that “teach kids as young as six simple techniques they can use anywhere and anytime,” says Nina Smiley, PhD, a psychologist who runs the kiddie sessions. The spa also offers children’s mani/pedis.
Great Wolf Lodge Resorts, various locations across the U.S.
Photo: Great Wolf Lodge/Facebook
All 13 Great Wolf Lodge resorts nationwide feature a Scooops Kid Spa onsite, which have an ice cream theme. Guests sit atop banana split thrones while getting their $49.99 pedicure, or ice cream cone stools while receiving their $44.99 manicure, and get to don a fluffy pink robe and devour an ice cream sundae. You can add in a chocolate organic facial at some locations for $39.99.
Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee
Photo: Blackberry Farm/Facebook
Located on 9,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry offers plenty of spa and wellness offerings for children, including Camp Blackberry, where kids learn meditative breathing, yoga, go on long hikes, learn healthy cooking techniques, and sample life on a working farm. Best of all, it’s all covered in room rates (which still start at a jaw dropping $745 a night).
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