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Music and regulation for children. What is ‘regulation’ and how to use music to support it.

In the world of parenting, we often hear about ‘regulation,’ but what does it really mean? Simply put, it’s about how well we can control our attention, emotions, and behaviour. 

We have to learn to ‘regulate’

From the moment a baby is born, they rely on caregivers to help them with things like feeding and sleeping. As they grow, they start to learn how to regulate themselves, but it’s a skill that takes time to develop.

Learning to regulate isn’t something babies are born knowing how to do; it’s something they learn as their brains grow. This is important for parents to understand, because sometimes when kids ‘act out’, it’s not because they’re being ‘naughty’ or difficult, but because their brains are still learning how to manage their feelings.

Music and regulation for children: Learning a new language

Imagine this: when a child’s emotions are strong, trying to talk sense to them is like trying to explain something to someone who doesn’t speak your language yet. Their ability to think logically, which is handled by a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, is still developing, so they might not be able to understand or control their emotions very well. In these moments, parents can help by calming their child down and helping them think more clearly.

Cue the music!

That’s where music comes in. In moments of heightened emotion, yelling or harsh words can exacerbate the situation, further activating the emotional centre of their brain – the amygdala. Instead, consider offering comfort and support through gentle actions, or soothing sounds. 

Here are some tips for using music and rhythm to help regulate your child’s emotions:

  1. Offer Comforting Touch: Sometimes, a simple gesture like a hug or a gentle pat on the back can work wonders in calming a distressed child. Physical touch, when combined with the rhythm of music, can create a sense of security, helping your child to co-regulate with you, calming and moving them into a more relaxed state.
  2. Engage in Singing: Singing has a way of soothing frazzled nerves. Ask your child if they’d like to sing a song together, or if they have a favourite tune they’d like to hear. Not only is this a good distraction if they’re only mildly distressed, the rhythmic cadence of a parent’s voice is something children love, paired with interaction with you, with practice, your singing can be a strong way to connect and bring comfort to your child.
  3. Utilise Repetitive Sounds: Our brains find comfort in repetition, so consider playing music with a steady beat or rhythm. This could be a calming instrumental piece or a familiar song that your child enjoys. The repetitive nature of the music can create a calming rhythm that resonates with your child’s inner sense of stability. Our bodies naturally want to entrain to a steady beat, which in turn can slow heart rate and breathing rate, helping a child to calm down.
  4. Create a Calm Music Playlist: Compile a playlist of songs that your child finds soothing. Having a designated playlist for moments of distress can provide a quick and accessible tool for helping them calm down whenever needed. For more information about how to develop playlists for this purpose, head to our blog post ‘How to Use Music to Alter Your Mood
  5. Encourage Movement: Sometimes, physical movement can help release pent-up emotions and tension. Encourage your child to sway, dance, or move to the rhythm of music. This not only provides a healthy outlet for their emotions, but also helps them connect with the regulating effects of music and movement.
  6. Practise Deep Breathing: Pairing music with deep breathing exercises can further enhance its calming effects. Guide your child in taking slow, deep breaths while listening to music. This rhythmic breathing pattern can help regulate their heart rate and induce a sense of relaxation. The rhythmic nature of their breath can eventually match the tempo of the music, giving them something else to focus on and helping to calm them down physically and emotionally.

Music and regulation for children: conclusion

Every child is unique, so discovering the most effective music and techniques for your child may require some experimentation. Integrating music into your parenting toolkit can help you help your child to regulate emotionally and build important self-regulation abilities – but they need your help. 

By introducing tools like music, you can help them develop skills to cope with emotional challenges and unexpected situations. Next time your child is upset, try using music to assist them in calming down and finding comfort. Within music are many aspects that support heart rate and respiration regulation, such as rhythm and tempo, which play a significant role in helping a child when they are distressed or heightened. With it, parents can support music and regulation for children and discover strategies to help themselves as their brain continues to mature and develop.

Natalie Oliveri, Director at Creative Therapy Adelaide

Natalie Oliveri, Director at Creative Therapy Adelaide

Natalie, the singing superhero, uses her magical music powers as a Registered Music Therapist to create harmonious homes and confident kiddos while fighting the evil forces of monotony!

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