As I music therapist, I’ve used music to aid in transitions and tasks with a wide range of ages from older adults to children with autism and developmental delays. Music is frequently used in preschool and early childhood setting to help establish the daily routine and let the children know what task is at hand and how long it should be attended to.
The most commonly used routine marker in music therapy is the Hello and Goodbye song. These are invaluable when it comes to clients who have a hard time shifting gears into and out of the music therapy session. We music therapists often refer to music as our “co-therapist. ” I have relied on these many times to help clients anticipate and mentally prepare for what was to come. It is so helpful in the sessions, that I have even encouraged parents to use a special song for transitions and daily tasks to guide the child through the day. I never knew how this actually played out or how powerful it was until I applied it to my own children.
In this post, I want to share a bit how music facilitates my day with little ones. I only have very young children at this point, and infant and toddler, but it seems that music is far more effective than words are at this point. Here are three ways I use music as my “co-parent”:
Music to gain attention: If you are a parent or caretaker of young children, it is likely that you have experienced the child deep in play or what appears to be randomly exploring his or her environment. As my toddler gains ability to play independently, my voice has had to become more interesting than what she was engaged in. If I need to interrupt her to let her know it is time to go soon or ask her a question, I usually get a quicker response if I sing her name. Very simply, in a light, descending minor third usually does the trick. It prevents me from repeatedly barking her name and using physical means of gaining her attention.
If needing to get her attention to stop her from doing something dangerous, such as touching a hot object or walking into the street, I resort to the “mother tone,” which is of course, much more alarming and serious. This means I can save that serious tone for serious things, and use a more playful tone when it is not an emergency. It has saved me considerable energy.
Music to facilitate a task: This is probably the most obvious use of music, but before I actually did it in a non-therapy setting, I did not know how it would go over. When my daughter was first learning to eat solid foods and therefore required to sit in one place at the table, she often became very restless and refused to eat. After singing the same song during a few meals, she began to calm down and allow us to feed her the entire meal. We usually used the same two or three songs so that they became familiar to her.
This was also true of diaper changes and baths. I always thought the song had to do with the actual task, but it didn’t seem so in the case with my daughter. As long as we had sung the song over and over so that it became familiar, it didn’t have to reflect the task at hand to be effective as a distraction and make the task more enjoyable.
Music to ease transitions: This is the area in which music has become the most helpful, especially since I have an infant that prevents me from verbally and physically coaching my toddler from one activity to another. I use very short melodies that simply call attention to the fact that something is going to happen, whether it is a meal, a story, going upstairs (to transition to nap time, bath, or bedtime), or the end of an activity, such as playing at the park.
For example, we sing a melody just before sitting down to eat. The words are “Welcome, welcome, welcome to our table.” That’s all. That is enough to announce that it is time to eat, and most of the time, it works! My daughter will come running to the table. Some melodies are a little longer, but it makes the announcement that we are going to do something and now is the time to prepare.
Of course, using music does not make for effortless guiding, but it does make things easier most of the time. Whenever I forget and start only using words to explain what is coming, I am always met with some resistance and things don’t flow as smoothly. The music helps me keep energized, grounded, and a little more patient!
I hope these snapshots give a picture of music in action and spark some ideas for using music in your own life with little ones!