Music has a strong influence on our mental health. Maybe you can recall how music made you feel a bit better when you were down. Or perhaps it helped you express your emotions when other ways of expressing them did not help. This is the same case for children, as music can influence your child’s mental health positively.
To clarify, this blog post is about ways that music in general can help your child’s mental health.
Music therapy can be an even more effective path to using music to impact somebody in a positive or constructive way. Yet, music therapy requires the presence of a qualified music therapist.
Learn more about music therapy here. And stay tuned for a future blog post on the potential benefits of music therapy on your child’s mental health!
Music therapists will often work in general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, elderly homes, institutions that support individuals with disabilities, etc. In these cases, the goals of music therapy have to be clear and concise to support the patient.
On the other hand, music in general can have many benefits on almost anybody, including your children.
What are then the ways in which music can improve your child’s mental health?
For now, we will focus on three. These three are:
- Encouraging and promoting positive coping in difficult situations.
- Calming the body.
- Helping children express themselves through more than words.
Music can encourage and promote positive coping in difficult situations
Lazarus and Folkman (1984) defined coping as:
constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.
A few important aspects we can draw from this definition are:
- Coping is constantly changing and is not defined by a single action or event.
- It includes both cognitive and behavioral efforts. This means that it can be the ways in which we think (cognitive) as well as behaviors we undertake (behavioral).
- They are “efforts,” Coping does not necessarily happen automatically. So, an individual puts effort into their way of coping.
- Coping is both about what’s happening externally as well as internally in a person’s life.
- Coping is not just about what is happening but about the fact that these “demands” exceed the resources of a person. That is, what is going on is beyond the ordinary experience of a person.
Positive vs. negative coping
Coping strategies can be positive or negative, depending on whether they are helping the individual deal with the demands they face. It also depends on the way these strategies affect the individual’s well being.
Some effective coping strategies include:
- Having and engaging consistently with a support system. Actions such as Zoom or phone calls with a best friend or family, seeing a therapist, and having parents who are open to conversations is a great way to cope with life’s stressors.
- Engaging in relaxation practices. Breathing, mindfulness, meditation, and other practices can help bring calm to the mind and the body in times of anxiety and stress.
- Staying active. Physical activity helps in releasing endorphins and regulates the circulatory system. Sports, running, and playing something that requires movement with children can help regulate stress and promote positive coping.
Music can promote positive coping for all children. The strategies mentioned above can easily be done (and maybe enhanced) with the help of music:
Music can be a great way for children to engage with their support system.
It goes without saying that parents should be an important part of the support system of children. Children also have other family members, friends, and teachers as part of their support system.
If you are a parent, talking to your child about your favorite and their favorite music can be a springboard to talking about other issues. You can also encourage your child to learn how to play an instrument and be open to having them and their friends play music together in your home.
Their music friends can be a part of their support system and playing music with them a coping mechanism in difficult times.
Music can promote and enhance relaxation practices
I mentioned breathing, mindfulness, and meditation before. These practices can all be coupled with music. As I’ll explain further in the next section, music regulates the body.
Thus, breathing together with the rhythm of a calming song can potentially even be more attractive to children than just breathing with nothing else.
You can take a look at some calming songs we compiled here. But it’s important to mention also that breathing and meditation can be done with the favorite songs of the child. Talk to them about what kind of music they find relaxing and try to invite them into closing their eyes, breathe along with the song they like, and paying attention to their thoughts.
Initially, they might only be able to do this for one minute, and that is ok!
Music can help kids stay active.
Kids tend to have more energy than adults so this one will really depend on your kid. If your kid is not spending any time staying active and moving (especially during covid times), invite them to dance with you!
Depending on their age they might find this super fun or might brush you off. Yet, it’s worth trying it. You might also want to be silly and jump and dance around with them. Besides being fun, the movement is good for them, and for you.
The next way in which music can have a positive impact in your child’s mental health is also related to the idea of coping.
2. Music has an effect on our bodies and thus affects your child’s mental health
For a good while in psychology it was assumed that to treat the mind and improve our mental health it was enough to work on our “cognition,” or in other words, in our mental processes. Yet, now there is good evidence that it is at least as important to consider how the state of our bodies affect our mental health and viceversa.
Previously we were talking about music being used to promote good coping strategies such as relaxation and physical activity. We know instinctively how music affects our bodies.
Just think about your favorite tune and how listening to it makes you want to move and dance. But not only that, we also know that music has an effect on our breathing, heart rate, and other aspects of our physiology.
This is the same for children, as music can make them want to dance, but it can also regulate their breathing, heart rate, etc.
Music affects our physiology, and in turn our affected physiology affects our mental health.
3. Music can help children express themselves in a different way
Words are often the way in which all of us express our feelings. But it is not the only way. For children, expressing their feelings with words sometimes can be hard and scary.
Music then can be there as an alternative in which children can express their feelings. Next time you want to talk to your children about how they’re feeling try asking them if they can think of a song that expresses how they feel. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Try asking them to take some sticks and play on a box how they feel!
Music offers ways for children to express themselves by means of its inherent qualities. There is a mysterious quality of music and its connection to emotion is not something easily explained. Yet, most of us see this in an intuitive way. Why do we turn to music to express our joys, our sorrows, our difficulties, and our emotions in general?
Coping mechanisms that rely simply on thoughts and words don’t have to be the only option. Try using music to help your child express their feelings. Writing about the mechanisms of music and emotion lies beyond the scope of this post, but to come back to the point of this post, it’s important to point out how music can allow children to express difficult emotions.
Examples of how music affects your child’s mental health
I would like to now offer some more concrete examples of how your child’s mental health can be positively affected by music!
Perhaps if you have children you can relate to the fact that the last year has not been easy for children and families. The pandemic, social unrest, and so much more threatens your child’s mental health and wellbeing. This first example is of a kid who might have been affected by the events of 2020 and 2021 and how music can provide benefits in this case.
Imagine then the life of an 8-year-old for the past year or so, we’ll call this girl Jenny. She is an exuberant, outgoing bundle of energy; she meets every challenge head-on, willing to try almost anything. She is quickly growing and recently decided that her favorite sport was basketball. In pre-pandemic times this kid would be attending school quite normally, playing with her friends, and showing interest in other activities.
As the pandemic hit, going to school, meeting with friends, and other “regular activities” are suddenly unpredictable and always changing. Perhaps for some time she was not even able to see her friends. This is a great challenge for her mental health! How can music be used in this case?
As stated before, having a support network is an important coping mechanism. But can it be too much for Jenny if she’s spending the whole day with her parents? It could be, but perhaps doing something that does not require too much talking, like listening to music, singing, or dancing can bring some diversity to family time.
Now, Jenny might actually be unsure how to express her feelings but the parents realize she’s been listening to a lot of one kind of music in the past few weeks. Having a conversation about that music could give her the words to express how she’s feeling.
Let’s now think of a 10-year-old child who becomes seriously ill and has to spend some time in the hospital. We’ll call him Ben. Being in the hospital places demands on him that probably exceed his resources. It is a situation beyond his ordinary experience. The illness itself is the biggest demand on him. But not the only one.
Ben also has the demand of being away from home, of encountering new people and new environments, not seeing his friends and family, or at least not as often, missing out on school and other activities, and many more.
He will of course have natural ways of coping. This could include drawing closer to his parents. It could also be spending more time on her phone or listening to music. In this case, music by itself can benefit Bob but music therapy can go even further to help him to promote positive coping skills to deal with his situation. Working with a music therapist can be quite different from using music so that will be the subject of a future blog post!
Nikki, founder of Sam’s Fans, engaged with music and music therapy with her daughter Samantha when she was battling a life-threatening illness. Sam unfortunately passed away, but their musical connection carries on in the legacy of Sam’s Fans. Learn more here.
Conclusion – Use Music to Impact Your Child’s Mental Health!
If we consider the current situation with covid-19, but even beyond that, children are facing demands that can easily overwhelm their resources and threaten their mental health.
Music can be there to help them cope without it being necessary for them to see a music therapist. We have provided some ways in this blog post that music can benefit the mental health of children.
In conclusion, music can have a positive impact on the mental health of children, no matter what their situation might be. This year we would like to write more on specific ways in which music/music therapy can help your children and their mental and overall health. If there are specific questions or resources that you think would be useful to you, please let us know in the comments!
Register to receive our weekly email with highlights from our music and art therapy blog: