The baby was fussing in the car, and although I had tried his pacifier, sippy cup with juice, his favorite blankey, and soothing words, nothing was working. Thankfully I had a CD of lullabies with me. I popped it in the CD player and there was finally blessed peace…
It was time to get up, earlier than usual, to get ready for our summer school activity. While the kids would eventually enjoy themselves, the getting up part was no fun. I then started humming the tune we sang for our daily opening time, and before I knew it they were all hopping out of bed and getting dressed with a smile, singing along with me…
It was spring cleaning day and nobody was looking forward to taking our house apart, finding all the junk and yucky-ness that is hidden all around, cleaning it up, and putting everything back together again. To get everyone in the mood, I opened up my laptop and pulled up a playlist that my 15-year-old son and I put together with motivational music, and off we went–cleaning, dancing, and singing!
These are simple examples that I bet more than a few of you can identify with–examples of how the power of music can turn around our emotions, our hearts, and a situation on a dime. I think almost anyone can attest to the power of a soothing lullaby, but the power that music holds over us–to calm, energize, inspire, and motivate–extends throughout our lives.
What’s So Stressful About Childhood?
Although adults might laugh at the idea that childhood is stressful, the fact remains that our early years are fraught with anxiety. It’s a time when everyday there are new experiences that can trigger anxious feelings. Whether children are learning communication skills, new behaviors like manners and adjusting to new people or environments, or how to handle relationships, childhood can be stressful.
Anxiety rears its ugly head in these situations because, unlike adults, kids have no point of reference for these life lessons. Childhood is when these critical moments are established. Perhaps not coincidentally, childhood is also a time when music is a huge part of life. From lullabies to schoolyard games to classroom rhythms and rhymes, music is the score to life.
How Music Can Address Anxiety
Studies have shown that music not only engages us on an emotional level, but also on a physical level. Music therapy has been used successfully with autistic children as well as adults with communication disorders, offering them alternative methods to communicate. Additionally, music can provide life-long skills for stress and anger management, and personal coping skills for feelings of aggression or frustration. But it isn’t necessary for you to have an advanced degree or years of study to be able to apply some simple principles to reduce the stress and anxiety that may be present in your child. You can use music to:
- Encourage muscle relaxation by using harmony, tempo, and rhythm to recognize and relieve tension. Try playing hand games with your child, initially matching intensity and speed with their emotions, and then gradually slowing them down to a calmer speed and rhythm.
- Teach deep breathing techniques using music as a tool or background. Play a favorite song or melody, or even introduce a special tune as their “cool down” song, and teach them to slow down and feel themselves breathing to the music. Use slow, deep breaths and consider asking them to count as well. Next time you see a stressful situation developing, turn on the “cool down” song and encourage them to take some time out to regroup.
- Use positive self-talk statements enhanced with rhythmic or melodic patterns to reinforce positive self image. I put a playlist together with the help of my teenagers for just this purpose. Of course, you do not have to be a teen to listen to it, but the songs included are selections that both adults and older children might benefit from. Feel free to choose other tunes that would serve the same purpose if you have younger children.
Letting your child listen to their favorite music has measurable physical effects. It encourages the production of dopamine, which is also know as the “feel good” hormone. Consider playing some fun background music during portions of your day to keep up a good mood and attitude.
The point of all these exercises is to help your child adapt and internalize strategies so they can cope, whether they are dealing with anger, fear, depression, inappropriate behavior, or a poor self image. Giving them tools to use in their youth will help them grow into confident and capable adults who will be able to handle the inevitable stress and anxiety that is a by-product of life.
How do you incorporate calming music into your child’s life?