Love Songs 101: Music and Affection in Early Childhood

Somehow the round green wreaths on the front doors of houses in my community have morphed into red or pink heart shapes.  Even when they are covered with snow, the colors and shapes of these decorations send the message that love is in the air.

I’ve been so lucky as a daughter and a wife and a mother to love and to be loved.  I’ve been fortunate also in my work with young children to feel a different kind of love for the little ones and for their families. As a music therapist and an educator I have examined the idea of love and affection and bonding from all different kinds of perspectives – developmental, biological, neurological, behavioral, social and emotional.  What this research and clinical experience has shown me is that one of the most important things that can happen for a parent and child making music together is to experience a feeling of love. 

What does love look and sound like in music? I am sure that each of us could come up with a song connected to episodes of love in our life. I know that each time I hear a song that was popular on the radio when my husband and I were dating, I get that old feeling of excitement and thrill. In early childhood the qualities of music and musical experience that makes up songs of love depend on developmental level.  Here are some thoughts on Love Songs 101 within the early levels of musical development from Music, Therapy, and Early Childhood.


It is one of the miracles of being human that most new parents feel an overwhelming sense of love and affection for their offspring. (Looking back at the baby pictures of my children, I am amazed to remember how perfect their scrunchy, smooshed faces seemed!) This feeling of attachment appears to be based in our biology and without it the motivation to care for the new baby is compromised.  The child in the awareness level, though, is like a giant sponge whose only purpose is to suck up the environment and the love along with milk. The child has no awareness of the pleasure they give to those around them, and so the love this child gives at this level is not intentional but still very real. To be loved, the child just has to be.

Songs of love in the Awareness level are designed to give the child what the child’s nature craves. We know from research and clinical experience that this means the best instrument is the human voice, generally pitched in a higher tessitura. It means a warm, gentle timbre and often a meter in ¾ or 6/8 to imitate a rocking motion.  The lyrics are less important to the child, but can be very affirming for the grownup.  Cultural or traditional lullabies that the grownup is comfortable singing make great love songs at this level.


In our culture, the trust that we put in our love relationships is often symbolized by a circle shaped ring. For me, my wedding ring is a constant reminder of the belief I have in love. For the young child in the trust level, love is built similarly through the emerging circles of communication with people in their environment. The child cries and the parent responds with a hug. The child laughs with joy and the grownup smiles back.  The child makes a sound and hears someone else imitate their vocalization.

Songs of love in the Trust level have that same circular quality of listening and responding. The grownup imitates the child’s pitch and then uses that same pitch in a safe, secure blanket of melody.  The child moves their arms or legs instinctively, and the grownup joins in by shaking or bouncing in the same tempo and rhythmic pattern. The use of reciprocity and synchrony send a message of affection to the child and the child’s attention and pleasure reinforce the love that the grownup feels for the child.


How many love stories have been made into movies or songs or books? We all probably have our favorites (although we might be too embarrassed to list them here). Inevitably, in each of these stories there comes a time when true love is tested, conflict ensues, and we wait and then weep as all becomes resolved with the promise of stronger bonds and bliss. Love between child and grownup and grownup and child in the Independence level is often like those movies. Intense love one minute followed by, well… how lovable is a two year old in the middle of a full blown temper tantrum?  And I suspect the child is not feeling much affection toward the grownup at that time either!

Songs of love in the Independence level help the child to open their capacity of love to other things and other people in their environment. The child becomes an independent music maker and their musical expression is what they love. This means loud or soft or fast or slow. It means singing or beating or shaking or jumping. It means moving away from the grownup and joining the other kids who are making such great music. The grownup shows their love by supporting the child with singing or clapping or just watching with admiration.  Love means that the grownup has to put aside their needs to be fully immersed in their child’s music. This also means that the grownup also has to love the music of their child more than loving the need to make perfect music. On the other hand, the grownup needs to be there to confirm their confidence in the child and be ready to jump in on a moment’s notice to scoop the child up and sing and dance together, just like it was in the Trust level.


I still chuckle when I remember the story of a young boy coming to our door around this time of year with a straggly bundle of flowers. He asked to see my daughter and shoved the flowers toward her as they stood in the doorway. Neither one knew what to do after that – so she closed the door in his face and put the flowers down on the kitchen table as he walked away. Phew-talk about the difficulty of communication! We might feel love, but we need to find a way to express that love in a style that can be understood by the other person. (Guess it didn’t work very well that day!) Communicating emotion such as love to another person requires skill on so many levels- language, empathy, and sensitivity to social circumstances- not to mention the personal qualities of bravery and confidence.

Songs of love in the Control level give the child the tools they need to express themselves to others in a way that can be understood. Melody and lyrics are very important. Structure within the music can show love through turn taking and reciprocal play. Listening to the music of another person is another means of communicating love. Singing or moving or playing together as a pair or in a group is a long accepted manner of demonstrating universal love.

I’ve written many songs over the years for young children and grownups that provide moments to give and receive love within music. Just e-mail me at and I would be happy to share some music with you. I would also love to hear about your songs of love with young children.  There is also a great deal of information on music and attachment in early childhood. Let me know if you would like a list of resources or if you are interested in attending a course on music and attachment.





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