You might have expected me to comment on the joy of seeing young children explore music and movement and the enthusiasm they bring to experiencing music. I do love that, but very young children don’t have the inhibitions that adults do. You ask kids to sing, they’ll sing; you play some music, and they’ll move to the beat; tell them to tap a drum or shake a maraca, no problem. Adults, not so much — if you ask them to sing, you may hear, “I can’t sing,” “Are you kidding?,” or “Someone told me I can’t sing, so I can’t.” Ask adults to dance and some will but many won’t, feeling too embarrassed that they don’t know the latest moves or “they don’t have any rhythm.” So many things have happened in our lives that, as adults, we feel inhibited, even on some very basic, wonderfully expressive and creative levels.
That is why, when I hear a parent singing with their child in class, I am most satisfied in my work with young families.
Singing is not the only way to make music with your child, but it can be a significant help in the bonding process. You are the trusted and safe place for your child. They turn to you when uncertain, scared or filled with laughter. You are home base. Your voice gives them comfort even when they can’t see you, because they can hear your voice and find you.
Here are a few tips to help you get comfortable using your voice with your child.
- Find a rhyme that you like and start chanting it to your child. You could use any nursery rhyme or words from a children’s song like Old MacDonald. Say them rhythmically as if you were singing. If there are directions like up or down or animal sounds, make them dramatic. For example if the word “up” or “high” is in the rhyme, move your hands up or down and wait for your child’s eyes to track the direction. For infants, funny animal sounds are great.
- Read stories out loud to get comfortable using your voice expressively with your child. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak or On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman are great stories with a song-like quality.
- Find a gentle song that you love or a children’s lullaby. While cuddling your baby, put an ear bud in only one ear so you can both hear the music and your child. Then allow yourself to sing along to the song. Using the recorded music may help to give you confidence you may not have otherwise.
- As you become more confident and see the difference it is making with your child, you can do away with the ear bud. Allow yourself to simply hum and make up tunes with your child.
Michelle Montgomery Muth, owner and founder of M3 Music Therapy, is a trained music therapist and music facilitator. She believes in the power of music’s ability to effect change and promote wellness, and with M3 Music Therapy, her mission is to build and strengthen community through creative group expression.