You would think that when a parent bonds with his or her child, it would usually involve activities such as cycling, painting, or even heading to East Coast park to fly kites. Nowadays, parents have a whole new different way to enjoy bonding time with their kids.
Mr Raymond Lim, 37, a restaurant group director, first introduced his son, Ryan, to spas when he was just 8 years old. A director at Les Amis Group Holdings, he often travels for his job and usually gets massages at the spas in the hotels he stays at.
During a family holiday in Bangkok two years ago, Ryan had his first brush with massages by having a shoulder massage at their hotel. He is now in Primary 4.
“Rather than send him to hotel kids’ clubs, I wanted to expose him to something different, something I didn’t have as a child,” says Mr Lim.
“It’s my interpretation of father and son bonding,” he says, adding that having massages together is more relaxing than their other shared pastimes, such as football.
A few times each year, the family of three enjoys heading out for a day at the spa, getting body massages and swimming. Mr Lim and his wife, senior paralegal Kim So Young, 39, may sometimes get manicures and pedicures too. Each session, which lasts several hours, costs at least $700 in total.
Mr Lim isn’t the only parent who considers the spa as a family experience. Though spas are considered an adult domain, some places are seeing more children, some as young as six, as well as more boys enjoying the facilities. Customers also show interest in children’s birthday parties centred around beauty treatments.
Parents pay for services such as manicures, pedicures, facials and massages for their young ones.
Director of Espa at Resorts World Sentosa, Mrs Tomoka Nguyen says, “There are more people asking for spa experiences they can share with their kids.”
This is one reason Espa will be launching spa packages targeted towards family groups of 3 to 6, starting next month. Priced between $180++ and $330++ a person, whether child or adult, spa treatment options include having a hammam (a Turkish bath) together, and going to the steam room.
One driving factor of this demand is the desire to help kids destress.
Housewife Miko Ong, 35, sees the benefits of a relaxing time at the spa, which was why she had introduced her nine-year-old son, Iain, to massages. She had started going for massages regularly about five years ago, to “unknot” muscles strained from doing computer work during more than 10 years in IT, an industry she left at the end of 2014.
The mother and son sometimes enjoy massages together.
“Adults spend many hours at their desks, children spend many hours in school. I see the benefits in the long run for him,” says Mrs Ong.
She says these benefits include less stress from schoolwork and enrichment classes, better sleep and muscles that are soothed after Iain does sports such as rollerblading and taekwondo.
His massages, which cost between $150 and $200 each, complement the chiropractic sessions she takes him to, every six months, in a “holistic wellness package”. The chiropractor checks his growth development, such as spine alignment and posture.
Mrs Ong and her engineer husband, who is in his early 40s, let Iain, their only child, have a shoulder massage at the age of 6. Though he found massages ticklish at first, Iain says he now finds them relaxing and likes the “lavender-like” scent at the spa.
Mrs Ong says: “If he has extra training for taekwondo, he will tell me his legs ache.”
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Auriga Spa at Capella Singapore hotel, came up with a spa menu for teens and children in 2011, and has seen more bookings for teen massages, which cost $95 each. “We frequently have parents wishing to relax with their children as a treat during stressful exam periods,” says its spa director Alsu Abdulina.
At the spa at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, spa manager Eve Chiam regularly sees children coming for massages to relieve the stress in their shoulders from carrying heavy school bags. These aromatherapy massages cost between $160 and $230 each.
Without giving exact figures, she says: “In the past four years, there have been more boys coming in, but there are still slightly more girls than boys.”
Paediatrician Janice Wong from Thomson Paediatric Centre says, “Going to the spa usually does not present issues regarding the physical development of kids, but emotionally, they may develop the feeling of being spoilt by parents.”
Dr Yang Chien-Hui, a senior lecturer at SIM University specialising in early childhood education, warns, “If parents focus too much on looks, beauty and a luxury lifestyle, children may consider these as priorities in life rather than intelligence, interests, characters and relationships.”
But sociologist Paulin Straughan says that what’s important is how the parent “contextualises” a trip to the spa for the child. “We should not cast judgment, it’s a private decision within the family. We should focus on what the activity represents, such as drawing parents and child together.”
Sociologist Sam Han, who is writing a book on lifestyle and self- enhancement, says that it’s natural to see more men and boys going to spas in Singapore because “the very notion of spa has shifted”.
“Spas are not exactly a luxury anymore, it’s no longer as elite,” says Dr Han, an assistant professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University.
“Spas used to have this notion of being very expensive but there are various tiers in the spa world. Spas are businesses and it makes sense to have greater participation from groups that were traditionally not the target audience.”
While spa treatments prices that some parents are willing to spend on their kids may seem lavish to some, Dr Straughan, an associate professor at National University of Singapore, says this is “possibly linked to the fact that there are more dual-income families and smaller nuclear families”.
Former actress Jazreel Low, chief executive of Asmara Lifestyle, a spa and lifestyle group, says she has met more mothers who are “willing to start their children earlier – some as early as 10 years old – on facials”.
“They want therapists to educate their children on how to take care of their skin,” says Ms Low, whose group includes Aramsa The Garden Spa in Bishan Park II, which has a kid’s spa menu for youngsters aged four to 14. She says the youngest client has been a girl of “about 5 or 6”.
Representatives of the spas and salons interviewed say they are careful to use child-safe products and to observe protocols such as having parental supervision and trained masseuses for children.
Nail Candy, a nail spa and salon at I12 Katong, uses organic nail polishes in its “Princess” range of manicures and pedicures for children. In these organic nail polishes, they are free of chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is found in some nail polishes.
“Children’s nails are not as hardy and are thinner than adults’. We buff them less and don’t do cuticle trimming which can be painful,” says Nail Candy manager Khim Lim, who adds that its nail spa parties are part of “a trend for parents looking for options for birthdays”.
With proper precautions, spa treatments for kids do not present health risks, says Dr Wong from Thomson Paediatric Centre.
“There are no concerns because spas for children use natural products that are free from parabens and chemicals, and have similar health policies for clients both young and old, which address health conditions such as muscle or nerve ailments and allergies.”
She mentions that parents must do their homework and ensure that spa staff are properly trained and sheets and towels changed.
Mrs Joann Tan, 39, an educator in the private sector, says her elder child, Sarah, 8, “loves nail polish and make-up”.
About two years ago, she had started taking Sarah, who has a younger brother, with her to the nail salon to do manicures and pedicures occasionally for “quiet mother- and-daughter time”.
When Sarah was very young and had expressed interest in her mum’s make-up, Mrs Tan resisted it. She later felt that exploring make-up was a “natural process” for girls. Besides, Sarah received presents such as make-up sets as a preschooler.
“I realised that if she wants to try it out, I should get her proper makeup, rather than from a toy store.”
Though there are different reasons why parents nowadays are taking their kids for a day at the spa, the main reason is due to wanting them to destress. A few years ago, the norm for parents to help their kids to unwind would be to take them out for a day at the beach, or to town for a little shopping. Oh how times have changed.
Would you bring your kids to the spa? Share with us in the comments below!