2 Simple Ways to Connect with your Child for Better Emotional Regulation
Have you ever noticed how even young infants search for their mother's approval when meeting new people?
A stranger approaches and the infant quickly looks the parental figure in the eyes as if to ask, "Is this person safe?" Their mother's response gives the infant cues to know if they should remain calm.
This is one of the components to attachment.
What is Attachment?
When babies are born they naturally search their environment for a stable figure who fulfills their needs. They look for someone to meet their most basic needs such as feeding them, comforting them through physical touch, giving them eye contact, keeping them comfortable by changing their diaper, and keeping them at a comfortable temperature. From the very moment children are born this idea of attachment begins. As a mother, that's an overwhelming thought!
From the very moment children are born this idea of attachment begins.
As a mother, that's an overwhelming thought!
When I first learned this I thought, "That is a lot of pressure, considering we are not typically in our best mental and emotional state when we have a newborn!"
Nevertheless, by fulfilling these basic needs, the attachment figure is fulfilling emotional needs as well and helping the child feel secure. Additionally, attachment figures are a source of emotional regulation for the child. Children cannot initally self-regulate or communicate their emotions. Hense, SO much crying!
Children cannot initially self-regulate or communicate their emotions. Hence, SO much crying!
Long story, short, as attachment figures provide for basic needs and model appropriate emotional regulation (I know this is a hard one at times), the child grows to become a "secure child". Babies don’t have a system that can inwardly self-regulate. They are often dysregulated and crying.
Babies and even children rely on an outward source (an attachment figure) for that regulation. If they don’t have that outward source (AKA attachment figure) to teach them how to self-regulate, then their brain isn’t going to learn how to self-regulate.
This is why kids that have attachment challenges often also experience emotional dysregulation.
This is why kids that have attachment challenges often also experience emotional dysregulation. They have not learned how to "self sooth" because those connections weren’t formed, or weren’t formed well enough….yet.
Individuals who are securely attached learn to self-regulate as they grow and begin to individuate, or become an individual who is confident in their own thoughts and emotions.
How Does Music Factor In to Attachment?
"Hi widdle itty bitty baby!" Have you ever noticed that people often use a "baby voice" when talking to infants?
Have you ever noticed that people often use a "baby voice" when talking to infants?
We naturally use a sing-song voice when talking to babies and young children for several reasons rooted in attachment:
1) Singing captures a baby's attention
The use of melody and rhythm is soothing and captivating to babies. Some think it reminds them of the sounds they heard while in the womb.
2) Babies can imitate our tone
Even super young infants can mimic our intonation and inflection. This is the first opportunity for them to have a "conversation"! Before babies understand words, they understand tone. They know there is a difference in our voice is we are happy, angry, or sad.
3) Singing connects us
Babbling, toning, and singing with your child makes you both feel connected to each other. Through this experience children begin to understanding that “being with” another human is a positive and good thing. Those positive experiences wire our brain so we learn to recognize healthy relationships.
Using Music to Increase Attachment
As a music therapist we are trained to pick up on the little nuances of someone’s music. We observe the music-making (or lack thereof) and can see aspects of a person by the way they play, interact, and the instruments they choose.
The volume at which the music is played, they rhythm, timbre, tempo…all those musical elements tell us where a person is emotionally, cognitively, socially, and motorically.
…all those musical elements tell us where a person is emotionally, cognitively, socially, and motorically.
For example, if a child is going from one instrument to the next and no connection is being made to an instrument or the therapist, that may mean they have a short attention span, become dysregulated easily, and have a hard time connecting emotionally to themselves and/or others. Whereas, if a child plays an instrument simultaneously with me, relatively matching my tempo, noticing when I copy some of their rhythmical or melodic elements, then I can assume they have some social and emotional competence. And as we play more I can get more specific information about their needs and strengths.
And as we play more music, I can get more specific information about their needs and strengths.
At times when people feel that emotional connection in the music, they pull away and this also gives me insight that their may be some insecure attachments in their life or some other element preventing them from connection. There may be some element of distrust or uneasiness when it comes to getting close to someone.
Music is very personal and elicits emotions, so it can make people feel vulnerable, and you have to be careful with that. If you experience that situation while making music with your child, I encourage you to contact a board certified music therapist.
2 Super Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship Through Music
1. SINGABLE BOOKS
The first easy way to approach attachment with music is through singable books. You can check out some great ones HERE or search "singable books" on pinterest for lots of ideas. Reading books to your child is an important bonding experience. Both parent and child are engaged with the same item, attuned to each other.
This increases intimacy and engagement. Adding a musical element enhances that experience by providing an emotional element as music naturally elicits emotions. Music lights up our limbic and paralimbic brain structures, which are responsible for every aspect of our emotions. How cool is that!
You also increase the chance that the child will remain engaged, because music engages our attention. Music activates many parts of our brain simultaneously, which is why it’s so engaging. It’s multi-sensory! With emotions and attention engages, you have a firm foundation for building a secure attachment.
With emotions and attention engaged, you have a firm foundation for building a secure attachment.
Another benefit of using music is that you can repeat the experience time and time again and it still is enjoyable. This helps to solidify attachment and decrease previous stress responses that the brain might have subscribed to in the past.
This helps to solidify attachment and decrease previous stress responses that the brain might have subscribed to in the past.
Another easy method of bonding is simply singing together. Sharing favorite songs and singing them increases attunement, listening to one another, and emotional and social connection. When we make music with other people it can releases the chemical oxytocin, which is a bonding chemical.
When we make music with other people it can releases the chemical oxytocin, which is a bonding chemical.
So music can help strengthen the process of healthy attachment. Also, with the anticipation of one’s favorite song dopamine is often released, so it can increase one’s mood as well, creating a positive experience when music making. You may know dopamine in relation to another idea, the reward center of the brain.
Each time our reward center is activated by dopamine, we will crave the situation that provided dopamine. So, if your musical experience releases dopamine, your child will crave more time with YOU!
So, if your musical experience releases dopamine, then your child will crave more time with YOU!
TWO important points when singing and interacting with your child...
1) Be sure to use FACIAL EXPRESSIONS and mirror your child's expressions, especially with younger children! This is important to their social-emotional development.
2) EYE CONTACT is so important to a strong attachment, particularly with little ones. Eye contact demonstrates you are present and connected to your child.
So be sure to give your FULL attention (eye contact, listening ears, and singing voice) to your child to keep that connection growing!
Attachment Concepts to Consider
Self-regulation and engagement: Everyone wants to feel heard and listened to. By mirroring your child's singing, tones, or rhythm you show empathy and demonstrate that you're listening. Logistically, this might be matching your child's volume, echoing something they sing, or echoing a rhythm pattern that they present. It’s very important that it doesn’t come across as mocking. You want it to be supportive!
Attunement & Individuation: Initially you may connect by matching the music your child presents... singing in unison or on the same note. This recreates the idea of attunement, which is an early stage in development. But you may also want to sing harmony or add some other elements when they seem appropriate. This recreates the idea of individuation. It symbolically plays out the idea that your child can be in the music with you, but can have demonstrate own aspects of the music. They are an individual, but ALSO in a relationship.
Music is a natural way, particularly for children, to increase emotional connection and bonding.
Music is a natural way, particularly for children, to increase emotional connection and bonding. Given just our voices, we have the power to bond with our children.
Music is so much more than just entertainment. It is a powerful force for change!
Noel Anderson, MMT, MT-BC
Director of AMTS
We would love to support with you and your child!
Would you like to learn how to use music at home to connect with your child
and improve their emotional regulation?