As music therapists and music instructors for kids of all ages and abilities, we get to see first hand the effect music has on kids’ attention, coping skills, and regulation. At NeuroMotif, we feel there’s no reason to keep any of it a secret! We want parents to have the same tools we have so you can see the benefits transfer outside of the therapy room, and for the progress to continue.
We know not every parent or family member feels comfortable facilitating with music – that’s why we’re also here, of course! But there are a few simple, everyday things you can do at home with your child to deepen their focus, connection, and potential.
Here are 5 musical things to try with your kids at home.
1. Sing Through Transitions
Transitioning between activities, places, and scheduled events is difficult – especially for neurodivergent kids, but they aren’t necessarily a piece of cake for any kid. With more limited language and control than adults, kids can sometimes feel confused or unprepared during the strange segments of time between activities or events. It can be hard to put away toys to come to dinner or start homework. These are all transitions, and different kids benefit from different levels of support to get through them.
We often take for granted how helpful it is for kids to know what to expect, but they like to know the plan as much as adults do! Timers, countdowns, and verbal reminders can help, but sometimes the actual act of getting your body to make the transition is difficult in itself. This is where transition songs come in!
Quick little songs or chants give structure to the twilight-zone feeling of transitions. They can help make instructions or steps very clear, and it brings fun and engagement to the transition.
Think of the transitions that seem most difficult for your child, and see if you know a song that can be applied! Some kids have a hard time getting in or out of the carseat, cleaning up toys to join a meal, or turning off the TV to take a bath. You can make up your own short melody or rhyme, or you can change the lyrics to a familiar song to fit your situation. Want ideas? Check out our social media for originals and our playlist of favorites– we’re always adding new ones!
2. Musical Instructions
This is the simplest and easiest to implement. Music is engaging and much easier to process than speech, especially for busy, developing brains of little ones. If you find your child is not comprehending directions, or they seem to be ignoring you, it could just be that their brains are not processing the information. Try singing your instructions, or just using an exaggerated sing-songy voice! You may be surprised at the difference.
Remember, especially if you’re giving instructions to a neurodivergent kid, try to be very clear, specific, and literal. “Quiet hands” is a lot harder to interpret than “hands to yourself.” Also, we find positive directions (“let’s be gentle!) are a lot easier to follow, and provide more information, than negative ones (“don’t be rough!”).
3. Use Background Music
Can you imagine working out at the gym in total silence? Even if you forget your earbuds and pump-up-playlist, there is usually music playing in a lot of public places, like the gym or grocery store, and anywhere else where we have important tasks to do. Music engages our brains and keeps us on track. Our bodies also entrain to the rhythm, meaning if there is slow music playing, our bodies will move slower, and if we hear fast, upbeat music, we are likely to pick up the pace.
If you’re having a hard time getting your kids to clean up, do chores around the house, or get active, try putting on upbeat music that makes their bodies want to move! Tasks will go by more quickly and will seem like less effort.
4. Encourage Emotional Processing
When you think about all the music out there made for kids, you can probably think of at least a few songs that list and describe different emotions. This is because feelings can be so abstract, but our little ones experience big ones all the time! That means it’s important for kids to “practice” emotions, aka act them out and talk about them. Music brings structure and fun to these important conversations. You can check out our social media for some examples of emotion songs, or listen to some of our favorite emotion songs by other music therapists and songwriters.
Of course, you need different tools when an emotional meltdown or shutdown is already happening! When your child’s brain is dysregulated, the part that can take in and process new information will not be able to function at its normal capacity. Practice regulation songs in order to prepare for these situations. Then, when a meltdown actually happens, you can sing the song to your child, encourage them to breathe, and maybe even sing along a bit. The breathing will help your child get their nervous system back to a place where they can reason with you, tell you what’s wrong, or make a plan to get through the difficult situation.
5. Musical Routines
We talked about transitions at the beginning of this post, and we know getting in and out of bed are some of the most involved and most difficult transitions! Morning and night routines are complicated and have many steps. Although they may come naturally to adults, kids still need a lot of support remembering, internalizing, and motivating themselves to get through the routines.
Songs that list your child’s entire morning or nighttime routine can be very helpful if you’re working on getting them to a point where they can complete it independently. This can be a great memory and motivation tool for school-age kids. If making up your own song seems intimidating, change the lyrics to a simple and familiar song! Involve your child, too – have them choose a song they would like to use, and work on changing the lyrics together. You’ll be surprised how creative you can really be when you work together!
For younger kids, quick and simple songs for each step may be more helpful. A song about brushing your teeth may help the process be more silly and fun, and will likely also help you and your child feel more close and bonded. When your kid sees you having fun supporting their hygiene, health, and routine, they will see that you are a team!
Want even more ideas?
These are just a few things you can do at home with music, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Music can support so many different situations for families, and that goes for kids of all ages, regardless of neurotype or ability.
Keep us in the loop – let us know where you would like support at home, and we will put our heads together to share our musical ideas. You can send us a message with your questions and suggestions here!
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