What’s the Deal with Dorian?

Well, I’ve done it again! There is something about the Dorian mode during the winter season that really draws me in. And what I’ve noticed again and again is that it also draws young children into the music in a way that is unique.

I think that it is the ambiguity which the Dorian mode creates that fits so well with my style of music therapy. I want children to explore and express and examine. I don’t always want to box children in to a certain harmonic structure that will lead them to a foregone conclusion. The Dorian starts out with the flatted third that tricks the ear into thinking it has a specific path. But then, along comes the raised sixth. It surprises me every time. It no longer feels minor, but it doesn’t feel major either. That is another reason that Dorian is perfect for young children as they explore all types of pitched and melodic sounds. Anything they contribute musically seems to have a place in Dorian.

I also like to add the Dorian mix into the pot during the holidays. By the time December is nearing its end, many of us are ready for a break. We sometimes get stuck in the stress of season and keep our jingle bells on constant loop. Dorian digs me out.

Maybe this song in Dorian will help you find a little bit of novelty and newness in these last few days before the New Year. Give it a try this week. “Look and See” invites you and your children to take a break from the normal and find some creative play time. Let me know if you, like me, find a big deal in Dorian.

Enjoy the Music!
Beth

Look and See!
E. K. Schwartz 2017

1, 2, 3. Look and see!
1, 2, 3. Look at me.
1, 2, 3. Look and see!
We can play together. We can play together.

Come and play with me.
Come and play with me.
Come with me and you’ll see, we can play together.

To Maria, Irma and Harvey….From Sandy

It was five years ago today that Hurricane Sandy upended the lives of so many people in my community. October 29, 2012. Looking back, the way we helped young children through those early days stills rings true today. To all the children and families affected by Maria, Irma and Harvey – our hearts are with you.

Go Away, Hurricane Sandy!

Routine, Reassurance, Recognition and Resilience

Dark. Noisy. Confusing. Mom and Dad upset. No TV.  Cold. The hurricane that roared through our area was really scary for so many little children.  And scary for grownups, many of whom felt powerless both literally and figuratively.  My friend Christine, shared these thoughts in an e-mail after returning to work at her pre-school – “So many staff members and family have lost everything at my site! People were crying in the halls in each other’s arms. A 4 year old girl told me there were fish and crabs swimming though her house.” 

How can we help our children feel safe in a situation like this? How can we help our children feel safe if we don’t feel safe ourselves?  This is a question for all grownups, including music therapists, who care for the young.  I have been thinking about how music could be one answer in this situation and in other crises that children face.  My music therapy colleague continued in the e-mail – “I spent a few hours considering how to structure my sessions. I decided not to start things I had planned on starting and focused on providing a sense of the familiar by doing the same gathering songs and music from two weeks ago. In some sessions we talked about the lights being out and being in a different house and how I’m still me. “Routine, reassurance and resilience.

Here at Raising Harmony we believe that making music is a natural part of development and that making music can help children develop. This includes a trait as important but as elusive as resilience.  Resilience means that we support the little child in feeling, expressing, understanding, coping and creating solutions.  In early childhood music therapy practice around the world, clinicians speak about the importance of prevention and early intervening in helping the child gain strength and health.  We can give the child and family the opportunity to prevent long term difficulties from the emotional upheaval of a crisis through music and music making.

What does developing resilience sound like in music? Christine gave us some good ideas. Here are a few more thoughts.

Repetition, Routine and Rhythm

Rhythm unifies and brings people together. The day I returned to work after the storm, I invited all the children and staff into one room.  Sitting on the floor, I began to pat knees in a very matter-of –fact way. The children joined in first, followed by the staff.  Slowly we began to sing a very familiar gathering song. The tempo was just as matter of fact, neither slow nor fast, but just right. The melody was fairly narrow in range.  We kept the structure very predictable, just like we had always done. You could feel the children begin to relax and give into the compelling patterns.  The message sent through the music was of trust and confidence. For just that musical moment, everything was going to be okay.

Recognition and Respect

One little guy I work with struggles with any change in routine and reacts to any loud or sudden sounds with terror. Can you imagine what this storm meant to him? His family shared with me that it had been a terrible week after the storm.  How could this child begin to express and begin to understand when I knew he couldn’t find the words to talk about fear? Well, we began at the piano with a favorite song- consonant harmony and triadic melody.  Since we know each other well musically, I then took the musical risk of introducing a flatted sixth chord into the harmonic progression.  We both jumped back from the piano and I sang “Scary”.  The flatted six chord resolved to the flatted third, and finally the V7 and back to the tonic chord.  The stage was set musically to feel the panic, then give a word and sound to describe the feeling, and then a resolution back to an area of comfort.  He and I played this game again and again and again until he showed he was anticipating the unusual chord. This musical experience recognized and respected that something really traumatic had happened.  But the pattern also allowed for the ‘scary’ to be resolved into something that this child could control.

Response and Resolution

To develop resilience for both this young boy and the group the music had one more job- to give voice to how to cope with problems and create solutions.  That’s where songs came into play. Songs can be created that are specific to the child’s needs. Songs can be remembered and re-created by the child at times of stress.  For this terrible storm, we adapted an old folk song:

“Shoo fly, don’t bother me. Shoo fly, don’t bother me. Shoo fly, don’t bother me. I want you to go away.”  “Go away, cold, dark house. Go away, trees falling down. Go away noisy wind. Go away Hurricane  Sandy.”

The melody is strong and the rhythm is crisp. The structure is clear and decisive.  And like the music after the storm, so are the kids.

Have you worked through crisis with young children? Share some of your ideas and thoughts, because we all need to be ready for what life brings. Thanks, Christine for getting the conversation started!

I look forward to hearing from you.

Beth

Finally! A Brand New Raising Harmony Course

Are you working this summer? So are we! We’ve got two brand new Raising Harmony courses for you. Only $49 with 3 CMTE credits, lots of new songs, and tons of great ideas for early childhood music therapists. Open the video to get a taste of how to create effective preschool groups, then head over to www.RaisingHarmony.com/training to sign up.

Clapping – Containment, Communication, Celebration and Community

I can’t believe that I was so sloppy in researching just how important clapping is to children and to all people!  Just recently, I was trying to explain to a new intern how and why children clap. Of course I told her that I would send her some links to literature on early clapping from my previous writing. Guess what? There was nothing there! Yes, there were some references about when it should happen and lots of ideas of clapping interventions, but I glossed over clapping as if it were just another on the list of markers of early childhood development. Whoa! The children and families I work with use clapping as the ‘go-to’ musical response –way before they are willing or able to sing or play an instrument.  How could I have been so blind to how important clapping is?

I felt a little better after doing a search of scholarly articles on clapping. Although my exploration was certainly not thorough, I couldn’t find the comprehensive neurological, physical, cognitive, emotional and social overview of clapping that I was hoping to find.  So here are some thoughts about clapping as a vital human response.  While I think about clapping within a musical context, clapping is about so much more- it is about  the development of ‘self’.  It helps me to think in categories so here are the four areas of clapping that I think of most with small children- Containment, Communication, Celebration and Community.091312CC128 (533x800)

Containment

Infants come into the world wired to absorb. From the first, they take in sounds and smells and sights. The problem is that early on babies have few mechanisms to shut off the flow of experiences. When babies fuss or cry, it is often because they don’t have a way to understand or change the stuff that is thrown their way, whether it is a wet diaper or a great Aunt who comes just a little too close. It takes much of the infant’s first year for their body and mind to begin to gel into one operating system.  A signal that they are starting to understand the boundaries of their body comes when the infant brings their palms together, and then begins to practice the movement which is the precursor of clapping. The sensitivity of the palms touching provides a way for the body to connect with itself.  The baby starts to sense the line that defines themselves. Try really focusing while putting your palms together and see how it feels.  It is no wonder that many of the world’s spiritual or religious movements use the palm-together gesture as a way to concentrate on deeper thoughts.  I see many children with special needs use hand wringing or clapping in a way that makes me think that they are trying to find or define themselves. Independently using clapping as a way to contain can be very important in developing a healthy ‘self’.

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Communication

Clapping is an outward gesture that we can see and feel and hear. So while clapping might start as helping a child with containment, it soon begins to take on meaning that other people can recognize. Spend time with a new family and you will hear the oohs and aahs when the new baby first smiles and first claps their hands. It is almost as if we need to see and hear these gestures to really believe that there is a ‘person’ inside.  Babies soon begin to recognize that grownups respond when they bring their hands together.  As the child grows and starts to make sounds with clapping they use the gesture to show pleasure or to get attention.

Adults also use clapping to communicate with children.  A little one takes a first step, the grownup claps. They finish the food on their plate, and the grownup claps. The sound of clapping can also communicate a different message very clearly. I remember my mother who raised eight children without ever raising her voice. How did she let us know when she was displeased? A very loud sharp clapping sound that could be heard above the din of even the noisiest of days.

Celebration

How did clapping become the way we celebrate? We clap to show appreciation, we clap at important events, we clap at concerts, and we clap at the end of movies. Why? In trying to answer that question, I found very little in the literature except to say that that is what humans do.  When I observe young children, though, I think I can see where it comes from.  When something excites us or moves us, our brain signals our bodies to express that excitement or stimulation. I think that clapping started as a way to let the energy out when our brains can no longer keep it in. Similar to dancing or jumping, clapping is a way to expel and dissipate energy.

For very young children, clapping can be a physical indication of intense emotions that they are not ready to express in other ways such as using words.  Clapping as a unique gesture generally begins in the second half of the child’s first year.  For the next few years, the child will clap sporadically and often non-rhythmically. It feels very spontaneous and seems to me to support that gesture as being a physical release.  However, when I see little ones bringing their hands together in carefree and joyous movements, I can’t but help celebrate life!

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Community

Of the studies on clapping that I found, the use of clapping to support a sense of community and belonging was the most researched.  I think I can now safely say that there is strong scientific evidence that synchronous movement is directly connected to social bonding. Clapping, along with dancing, might be the most ubiquitous synchronous movement in our current culture.  Try ‘googling’ clapping and you will see page after page linking clapping to social, artistic, religious and sports gatherings.

For young children, the instinctual clap that starts as bringing the palms together gradually grows by about age four or five into the ability to clap in unison with others.  They can control their gestures to make a musical sound and regulate the tempo to join in with everyone else. Through the clapping they become part of a community.

So I will go back to work with a renewed respect for all the stages and meanings of clapping for my young music makers and their families. And yes, I will probably clap for myself that I finally woke up to a better understanding of the seemingly simple gesture of clapping.

Enjoy clapping to the music!

Beth

 P.S. Visit http://sproutingmelodies.com/2016/07/14/im-so-glad-to-be-me/ for a brand new song I wrote about the joy of clapping.

Birds, Bats, and Babies: Perfect Pitch Play

There was such a beautiful bird song outside the bedroom window the other day! Too bad it was 5 am in the morning. The initially sweet melody was very loud and went on and on and on.  Since I couldn’t get back to sleep, I wrapped my mind around figuring out the intervals and the exact pitch of each sound.  I tried to visualize the song as notation. This is not the easiest thing to do, especially at 5 am. Next came the inevitable question of why. What was the bird’s message? Was anything or anybody going to answer it so that I could go back to sleep? Why did the melody never waiver? What was that bird trying to say!?

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Later in the day, and fortified with a number of cups of coffee, I surprised myself by going out of my way to listen to a similar pitched melody sung over and over and over again by the young babies in our school’s day care room.  It too was difficult to pin down in terms of exact pitch, but the contour was unwavering.  This time I worked hard to put aside my analytical mind, and tried to just enjoy the sounds. It was obvious that the babies were enjoying making these songs.  They sang them again and again and again. Each time brought a fresh round of smiles, as if they were just discovering something new and exciting.

First birds, then babies, and later in the day I came across an article about the study of bats. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/baby-bats-babble-through-childhood-like-we-do/). It seems that baby bats begin life babbling away using pitched sounds and fragments of melody. The melodious babble is the way the bats begin to communicate. It isn’t until later, after learning from adults, that they develop a more sophisticated sequence of sounds that have precise meaning (to other bats anyway).

Pitch – both processing pitch and producing pitch – is a very early human achievement.

Before words, or concepts or gestures, there is pitch. Infants can process and match pitch within their first few months of life.  Like bats, young babies begin to form meaning of their world through repeated and learned connection of pitch to context. But do we need to always view baby’s use of pitch as a means to an end? Is early pitch use only valuable when it leads to language?

Why do birds, and bats, and babies sing? Well, there are many, many scientists studying these questions looking to uncover meaning and purpose behind this behavior. But after trying to listen to the birds and babies the other day, I began to tell myself…they sing because they can. They sing because they do. They sing because it is in their nature to sing.

This led to a bit of an ‘aha’ moment.  Pitch, and the use of pitch, by babies or children should be valued just because it is a natural part of development.

Although adults can begin to shape pitch into communication with external meaning, we can also celebrate the child’s natural motivation and ability to create pitch.  We can and should view pitch as an important part of the child, separate from language or other meaning and unique in its communicative qualities.

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Try and wrap your head around it as you go through your day. Here are some tips for listening for and valuing pure pitch play.

  • Think about a smell or scent that you love. Remember how you savor that delicious smell as you take a long sniff? Now think about a pitch that you love. Hard to do? Scent and pitch are sensory experiences that can be valued in the same way. Try to find a pitch that feels especially good to you. Enjoy it just as you enjoy a favorite smell.
  • Practice listening for and imitating pitch. Close your eyes and pick out a sound in your environment. Use your voice to try and replicate the pitch that you hear. This might not be entirely specific, since each person might assign a different frequency as being the most prominent in any pitch sound that is not precisely pure.
  • Play with pitch in your own voice. Try not to connect it to any song or familiar musical structure. This might seem silly at first, but keep in mind that this was one of the earliest ways that you let the world know that you existed.
  • Sit down with the babies or children that you work with as they play. Listen to their use of pitch and try and imitate it. Work hard not to place adult thinking about meaning on the sounds, but try and enjoy the act of making these sounds.
  • Join in this pitch play, and let the babies and children teach YOU about this very natural way of being!

 

Enjoy the music!

Beth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Soup and the Musical Mechanisms of Change

I just came back from an amazing international conference on current research in music therapy.  It is always refreshing to hear truly great minds present their ideas with a passion that is backed up by charts and graphs and big name journal citations. A thread that ran through many of the presentations was the call for further research focusing on the ‘mechanisms of change’ that allows for music therapy to work.

I guess that I am pretty naïve,  because when I am making music with little children and their families, I think that I know what those ‘mechanisms of change’ are.  The search for validation through research just seeks to precisely explain human nature and the place of music in humans, even though this phenomenon has existed throughout time.  It is kind of like my mother-in-law’s chicken soup.  It tasted awesome every time.  When I asked her for the recipe, she looked at me quizzically as if to say “Why?” She then proceeded to throw in a little bit of this and a little bit of that and set it to simmer on the stove for hours. It was undoubtedly just the way she learned from her mother, and her mother learned from her mother. It was within the ‘doing’ that the ‘understanding’ became clear.

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But this making of the chicken soup did not exist in a vacuum. There are really four critical mechanisms in the know-how of chicken soup:  The Ingredients; The Cook; The Cooking; and The Eater (that would be me!). Each of these parts needs to be present in order to complete the chicken soup experience.

So here are some of my ‘throw in a little of this’ thoughts from chicken soup on how music and music therapy works.

The Ingredients of Music

It is the unique variation in the elements, or ingredients of music, in each music experience that creates one mechanism of change.  Research has pinpointed the physiological and psychological changes created by some of these ingredients such as rhythm or harmony.  Much more needs to be done in the less studied ingredients such as timbre or pitch. With careful observation in my sessions, I can see how each tiny change in any of these elements creates changes in me and my music and in the music makers who join me.  Effective music therapy means knowing how to include, exclude, vary or expand each of these ingredients.

 The Music Cook

No matter how precise a person might be, there is always an individual imprint on everything we do. Research itself really struggles with this uniqueness of humans.  Each and every one of us, thankfully, is an independent variable! The cook then, becomes a critical mechanism of change, no matter how much we try and control the ingredients.  Music as we know it is created by humans (yes, even humans program the music generating programs).  So the music cook, or the music maker, cannot and should not be left out of the equation when figuring out how music and music therapy works.  As a composer, I know that even though others re-create my music with young children, it never is an exact replica of my musicing. The cook matters.

Cooking the Music

I might be out on a limb here, but I believe that music only exists as a process. Because music (we are not talking notation) only happens across time and within experience, the process of musicing is the third mechanism of change.  It is within the process of making the music (whether receptive or expressive) that the music becomes a human experience.  Research has given us a lot of background on the process of the human music experience including sensory and emotional progressions. However, I think that music process is the mechanism that is the least understood and studied by music therapists. We often look to other disciplines and professions to help us understand changes within our clients when we should be immersed in understanding the process of music making. Our real soup is bubbling right beneath our nose!

Eating the Music

I might have taken this analogy a little too far, but visualizing music making the same way we visualize eating might help to understand the ‘eater’ as being vital as the final mechanism of change.  I love parsnips in my chicken soup. My husband hates them.  It doesn’t matter that he knows that they are really healthy, or that they add to the flavor, or that they make the soup look more like his mother’s. He still hates them.  Without a music ‘eater’ who wants the soup, or the music, the way it is made, there is no way that the chicken soup experience will happen.  He just won’t eat it.  In my music therapy groups, there are kids who love melody and kids who seem to care less. There are kids who only get excited or calmed through rhythm. As music therapists, I think we have given far too little attention to the individual’s personal proclivity for music ingredients and the music process. Yes, we do ask about musical preferences, but this often becomes more about a list of songs or a specific genre than a thorough understanding of the very individual nature of musicing.

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There you have it. So as I go to work every day as a clinician, I look toward the day when the graphs and charts and journal citations will empirically recognize what I think is already happening in my practice. I will not stop reading the cook books, but I will continue to make the soup in the way I learned from my music and music therapy ancestors.  And I will make sure that the soup is one that all of my children and families will want to eat.  And if I am asked for a recipe….I’ll  tell them to first read the cookbooks, but then take what they learned and just put in ‘a little bit of this, and a little bit of that’.

Oh… always remember that if you are having guests, you need to make sure you ask them how they like their soup. That way you can all sit down together for a satisfying meal.

Enjoy the soup and the music!

Beth

The Power and Persuasion of Musical Scales

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Yesterday was tax filing day here at my house.

Actually, it has been tax filing week.  Each year I seem to get more and more bogged down with finding and filling out forms.  I like to think I’m organized, but every spring proves me wrong.  The stress builds as I frantically search for Box 3 (B) subsection A, Item 1 on small pieces of paper that I can hardly read. If only there was a reliable system that I could trust would be the same from year to year. As I drifted off to daydream about numbers jumping off the page to taunt me, I began to think about how much stress is caused in our everyday lives by the demands of having to understand things that make no sense.  And of course this led to thinking about how this kind of stress impacts my young students with disabilities all day, every day. That same wide-eyed panic that I feel when faced with a clutter of torn bits of paper and crumpled receipts is the same look I see in the eyes of my little ones when they face new or novel situations.

But new experiences, just like taxes, are a fact of life.

Being able to absorb and integrate novelty is critical for young children as they develop.  Luckily, as music therapists, we do have a system that can give even the newest idea or experience a context and a familiar reference – musical scales.  All of the children that I work with not only seem to ‘get’ scales, but they can demonstrate on a daily basis that they ‘get it’.  Music cognition research fully supports this innate ability to ‘get’ familiar scale patterns.  One of the music researchers that I often go to for information on music and patterns is Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel.  You can read his comprehensive 2007 compendium- Music, Language, and the Brain – or access some of his lectures on YouTube or at http://nihrecord.nih.gov/newsletters/2013/06_21_2013/story2.htm.

Here are two suggestions of how I use the power and persuasion of scales to help my kids feel safe and able to understand what is happening, even when though don’t understand language.

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Sol – La – Ti – Do:  Moving  Up and Forward

This upward scale sequence is so familiar to us that we might take it for granted in our work with children.  I use it to introduce a new experience or to get us ready to start something.  Often I will just sing or play the single tones with no other harmony and wait with an extended pause before finally moving to the ‘Do’.  The silent anticipation of the children as they wait makes the air almost crackle with expectation.  Those focused seconds of listening and regulating are followed by such excitement as they break into music making. They get it.

Sol – Fa – Mi – Re – Do: Moving Down To Completion

Descending down these five tones to the fundamental ‘Do’ gives the children a clear signal that things are coming to an end. I often pair the tones with words that explain such as “I sure had some fun”.   Hearing this sequence again and again at the end of a session or end of an experience will help the children internalize the patterns of completion. Most of the students I work with will vocalize this descending scale along with me. And then I hear them using the same sequence independently helping to make the world a more understandable place.

Whew, I feel calmer already! Okay, now back to making sense of those tax forms.

Enjoy the music!

Beth

A Chants for Change

Did the words in the title throw you a little bit?

Chances are, since you are reading this, you kept going because you were caught off guard by the mixed up words.  You might not have paid attention otherwise, except that something jumped out as odd.  Catching this tiny, weird change speaks to the reliance we put on our prediction about how we generally use words and what those words should mean.

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When I think about words and music,

I admit that in my early childhood work, words always have a musical quality and my music generally includes words. The line that separates the two is very slippery. I often used ‘motherese’ when talking with infants and toddlers. As the children get older, I put lots of rhythm and rhyme into every interaction. I easily move from singing to speaking to singing. The children I work with love it (although my own children roll their eyes when I speak that way with them)! So while I am a huge proponent of music based practice, I respect the spoken word and work to strike a balance between talk and song.  I am finding a number of times when my new ‘songs’ are really ‘chants’.  I thought it might be useful to outline some ideas about chant in early childhood work.  Hope this helps you to both define, as well as blur, the line between the language of words and the language of music.

  • Chant and song share many common musical elements such as rhythm, tempo, meter, structure and timbre.
  • The primary musical elements of chant are often rhythm and meter, which is created through word rhyming and articulation of word sounds.
  • Chant relies less on defined pitch and formed key structure. Chant, however, does have pitch elements. The pitch (or frequency) is non-specific and relational in terms of inflection rather than fixed as in melody. This means that each person can use their personal voice to create a unique pitch or intonation pattern.

I know in my work that the musical elements that seem to scare non-musicians the most are the use of pitch and melody. So one thing I’ve tried to do is to take out the fixed pitch and melody and use the more non-specific inflections of chants. This often helps parents and early childhood educators to feel more confident to make music.  Everybody can use their own vocal patterns.  The musical interest comes with the use of rhyme, rhythm patterns, structure and repetition.

Here’s how I write a chant.

Just as with songs, the motivation always has to be driven by the children and their needs, so I identify that first.  I then think of words to describe or comment on that need which the children might be able to use outside of the music setting. I find little phrases or snippets of sentences that they can use to communicate, to request, or to comment.  I say the words again and again and again until they begin to fall into a rhythm or pattern.  Once I hear the language or word pattern, I create a complimentary rhythmic pattern that can be repeated. I next look for a rhyme or rhymes and then begin to put all the rhyming words together in a way that makes cognitive sense and has meaning. Next I form it into a structure so that there’s overall predictability.  Then I always add a little bit of surprise (rhythm, words, or sounds) usually in the third stanza or sometimes even the fourth stanza to catch the children’s attention just as I caught yours in this title.

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So why use chants for change?
  • Because chants give the chance to engage all grownups in in the musical world of their children by removing the focus on use of specified pitch or key structure.
  • Because chants give the chance to focus in on words and language the children might need to know or use to communicate.
  • Because chants are easily remembered and generally short with lots and lots of repetition.

To hear for yourself how some of these ideas sound, you can find two brand new chants that I just wrote at:  http://sproutingmelodies.com/2015/01/18/hows-weather-today/

Enjoy, and keep chanting!

Beth

Five Things I’ll Change in 2015

I happened to see this amazing video this morning while wasting time in cyber space. It is a very short story about new research into very tiny Pygmy seahorses. What does that have to do with early childhood music therapy? Well it turns out that the new-born babies adjust their color to fit their environment rather than sticking with their genetic coloration. Our little children also are very adept at adjusting to the environment we create for them in music.

So, for 2015, here are five things that I will do to change the music environment I create for the children that I work with:

1)  Sing less, so that the child can sing more.

2)  Change the key or tempo of the music to fit the child, not me.

3)  Repeat music experiences more so the child can become master of the music.

4) Expect and respect the music of the child.

5) Share music more with all the grownups in the child’s environment: Dad, Mom. sibling, teacher, bus driver, friend.

Best wishes for the New Year to you and yours.

Thanks for being part of Raising Harmony and Sprouting Melodies!

Beth

Making Merry When Joy is Elusive

Earlier in December I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Training Institute of Zero to Three – an amazing organization that “provides parents, professionals and policymakers the knowledge and know-how to nurture early development” (www.zerotothree.org). There was an incredible display of expertise and action and it was so invigorating to be a part of it. Speaker after speaker drove home the point that good developmental outcomes are built on good, solid early relationships. Most interesting to me were the reports by neuroscientists about the biological and neurological underpinnings supporting the critical need for bonding and nurturing in the early years.
The one thing that rattled me though, was to walk outside of the conference center to blue skies, ocean swells and palm trees covered with Christmas lights. Being from the North, I never could rectify the idea of Christmas and summer-like weather. How could everyone be so nonchalant about Santa in a bathing suit while I felt so weird and out-of-touch? How come nobody else noticed that something was just not right?

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Fast forward to the next week, going back to the therapeutic preschool where I work as a music therapist. The school had made plans for a ‘Holiday Party’ and invited families to come in for the day to celebrate with their little ones. The hustle and bustle of the holidays is often a whirlwind for typical children, but can be totally overwhelming for our kids with developmental disabilities and autism. Partying within the safe confines of our school gives them a chance within the familiar structure to experience some of the holiday without too much stress. Of course, one of the biggest parts of the day is the family sing-a-long. We do songs and instruments that the children already know and we invite the parents, grandparents and siblings to join along. The children seem so excited to share their music with Mom or Dad, and they look toward them with the spoken or unspoken command to ‘sing along’.
As I sat up front, though, and looked at the sea of little and grownup faces, I couldn’t help but linger on those few grownups (mostly Moms) that had that same look that I must have had on my face when seeing the Christmas displays on the beach. The look said ‘Why do I feel so weird and out of touch? Why is everyone else so joyful and merry when I am just not feeling it?’ These are just the parents and caregivers that I had been learning about at the Zero to Three conference. The ones that wanted to be a good Mom or Dad, but just couldn’t find the energy or resolve to respond to their child with joy and happiness. Those are the grownups I know I need to reach out to if I really want to help their child.

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So my resolve for the New Year is to work harder at including the entire family system into my work with young children. Here are some thoughts that I hope will guide me and perhaps will help you in your practice.

Understanding the Disconnect

There are many reasons why a disconnect happens between parents and children, especially those with disabilities. Here are a few:

Depression

Maternal depression is more common than you might realize and makes it difficult or maybe impossible for Moms to pick up on and respond to the signals of their child.

Denial

Diagnosis of developmental disabilities is often a long, drawn-out process. Many of the signature symptoms don’t manifest until later. Some parents deny that a problem exists. Holding on to that denial is often exhausting and the work it takes to keep it up prevents parents from responding to their child.

Disappointment

We live in a society that values achievement and success. Sometimes having a child with a disability feels like a failure. The feeling of failure can become overwhelming and can block a parent from being able to respond to their child’s strengths and positive personality.

What Can I Do to Help?

Again there is much that we can do to help parents. A few things to keep in mind:

Recognize

Learn to recognize the signs of depression. Understand from a parent’s perspective the challenges that they face every day. Know how those struggles impact how they respond to their child or to you.

Relate

Although my job is to help the child, I can go a long way in helping the child by creating a relationship with the child’s parent. Reach out to parents as people and work to show respect and understanding.

Refer

As professionals, we have access to information about available services in the community that can help parents. Once you have created a relationship with a parent who might be struggling, share information on resources.




What does any of this have to do with music? Well, within music we can give parents an opportunity to be in a safe environment; to learn simple ways to play with their child in a way that all can respond to; and we can use music to create a respectful and mutual relationship.
Thanks for taking to time to think about being ‘ in’ and ‘out’ of touch in this holiday season.
Beth