How to Use Music to Bond with Your Child and Help Them Reach Developmental Goals
Music. Does your child enjoy it? I am guessing that the answer is, “Yes, my child loves music!” My next question is, “How are you using music to bond with your child and help them reach developmental goals, such as motor skills?” If you already have a toolbox of songs, musical games, techniques, strategies and instruments, then BRAVO! If you feel like you are just scratching the surface of what’s possible, then read on!
Bonding through Music
Let’s start with bonding. Singing with and/or to your child, is a beautiful way to connect and bond. Did you know that singing increases Oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone? Not to get too heady about the neurology behind music, but we all know that music can have profound effects on us, and scientists have begun to conduct the research to explain why.
Beyond all of the neurons and hormones, there is a simple beauty of a parent singing to a child. If you are concerned that you do not have a good voice, or can’t sing at all, you have nothing to worry about, because children are not judgmental of people’s ability to sing in key. The important thing is that you have fun and sing out! Start with songs that are simple, and that you already know by heart. Tunes like “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Row your Boat,” “This Old Man,” and “Old McDonald” are winners.
Get Started with this Simple Musical Activity
Here is a simple bonding activity. Sit on the floor across from your child, hold their hands, and sing “Row Your Boat.” Sway forward and back, or side-to-side, while singing. Connecting the singing with touch, movement and eye contact is a great way to deepen your bond together. I always like to incorporate humor into activities like this, because when we laugh with our children, we bond with our children. Here are some additional verses to “Row Your Boat” that can add humor to this song.
Row, row, row your boat gently in the bath,
if you see a tall giraffe, don’t forget to laugh.
(exaggerated belly laugh)
Row row row your boat gently out to sea,
if you see a big blue whale, invite him home to tea…yum (pretend like you are drinking tea)
Row row row your boat gently out to sea,
if you see a pretty mermaid, give her a kiss from me! (big smooch)
Rock, rock, rock your boat gently to and fro,
merrily, merrily, merrily, into the water we go. Splash! (fall over into some pillows)
Row row row your boat gently down the river, if you see a polar bear, don’t forget to shiver! (exaggerated shivers)
Row row row your boat gently to the shore,
if you see a lion there don’t forget to roar! (ROAR)
Row row row your boat gently down the creek,
if you see a little mouse don’t forget to squeak! (squeak and act like a mouse)
Row row row your boat gently down the stream, if you see a crocodile, don’t forget to scream! (scream)
Learning Developmental Skills through Music
In addition to music being a wonderful way to bond with your child, you can also use it to help them reach developmental goals.
Let’s start with motor skills. I love incorporating instrument playing into my sessions, and you can do this at home with simple percussive instruments such as rhythm sticks, maracas, drums and tambourines. Put on some fun, upbeat music that your child loves, and start jamming along. When your child is engaged and motivated, suddenly pause the music, and hold a tambourine up for them to strike. Hold it above your child’s head to address shoulder stability and extension. If your child is working on crossing mid-line, put a drumstick in their right hand, and hold the tambourine to the left side of their body. Have your child tap two maracas or rhythm sticks together to improve bilateral coordination. There are so many variations of this, depending on their developmental needs. As soon as they perform the desired behavior, immediately start the music back up, and continue playing along until the next pause.
Personalizing Skill-Based Songs
You can also sing an encouraging song to your child so that they will be motivated to practice these motor skills. Just take a familiar melody and change the words to personalize it. For example, I have written out the lyrics to “Wheels on the Bus,” and have included personalized lyrics underneath them. I have matched these words up, so that you can get a better feel for how to sing the melody with the new words.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, Oh, Jack hits the big drum, up and down
round and round, round and round. up and down, up and down.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, Oh, Jack hits the big drum, up and down,
all a-round the town. and he makes this sound.
Whether your child is speaking, signing, or using Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices (AAC devices), music can help them learn speech and communication skills. One easy way to work on these skills is to use “Sing and Read” books with your child. These are books that have taken classic kids songs such as “Twinkle Twinkle,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Five Little Ducks,” and have put these songs into a story format. The pictures on the page can be used as visual prompts for the words you are reading. If your child is working on saying, signing, or using an AAC device to communicate the word “duck,” for example, then just create a big, dramatic pause before singing this word. Then, point to the duck on the page, and wait for your child to say, sign or use an AAC device to communicate this word.
I hope that you begin to explore the limitless potential of using music with your child. Whether you are looking to build a deeper connection, or help your child learn developmental skills, music is a source of motivation and fun that you can easily tap into. I have a free bi-weekly newsletter that gives great suggestions and resources for using music with your child, so please sign up at http://www.therhythmtree.com/user-registration.
If you are interested in having all of the tools you need to bring the joy and benefit of music into your child’s life, you will want to check out my award-winning DVD and Music Package for Children with Special Needs. For more information, and to hear what other parents and therapists are saying about it, please visit www.therhythmtree.com/store.
Photo Courtesy of Karma Marino
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2013 Magazine