Music is an intrinsic part of the human experience. From religious rituals and family gatherings to entertainment, music has played a role in almost every culture throughout history. It is still very much a part of our culture, but can music be utilized to improve your mental health and the health of your child?
The answer is yes.
Wired for Sound
“The human brain and nervous system are hard-wired to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm and repetition, tones and tunes,” notes Harvard Health. Indeed, the brain responds to music differently than it does to other stimuli, which makes it a powerful tool for impacting your mental state.
“The first thing to know about music is that when you listen your entire brain “lights up” with neural activity,” Dr. Bethany Cook, PsyD, MT-BC, tells Parentology. Cook, who is a music therapist, says there are lots of ways to incorporate music into your daily routine that will improve your child’s mental health.
A 2011 Finnish study utilized MRIs to chart the brain’s response to music. The study found that music not only impacted the auditory part of the brain but also affected neural networks. This brain “activation” makes music relevant in many different circumstances. Music has been proven to help reduce stress, improve concentration, improve memory and cognitive performance in children.
According to Cook, music stimulates positive activity in the brain. “This allows increased blood flow to areas of the brain that may need a little ‘boost,’ especially during stressful times when areas of the brain just shut down completely in an effort to cope.” She notes that music can also be a powerful aid in building new neural pathways when it comes to learning (like teaching the state capitals in a song).
One can also use music to literally shift your cognitive mood. Even though many people are stressed right now and it’s impacting mental health, a familiar song that you’ve loved for many years will release dopamine, the body’s “happy hormone.”
Change the Music, Change the Mood
Obviously, different types of music elicit different emotions or thoughts. Can parents utilize music to help change or shift their child’s mood? Dr. Cook says absolutely, and offers a step-by-step approach.
- “When using music to shift a mood state, one must first start with a song that matches the energy of the mood. Take some time to think about how your body feels when it’s angry/sad/happy/frustrated etc. Are you tense (think of jazz that shifts key and time), paralyzed to move (repetitive atonal music might match), or happy (bubble pop music)? Knowing this is the first step in shifting your mood.”
- “Second, decide the mood state you wish to shift. Then find a song that matches and pick three-to-five additional songs that gradually shift toward your desired emotion. Are you too excited and need to calm down so you can focus? That’s a different playlist from shifting from low energy to high. You can have as many different three-to-five song playlists as you need.”
- “Finally, wait for the right moment and give it a try. Remember, music will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to shifting your mood, but you will also need to make an effort as well. Take five-to-ten slow deep breaths before you start, try to open your mind and clear the ‘air’ to help the music have the best chance for success.”
Set aside some time to sit down with your kids and listen to some music together. Let your children play some of their favorite tracks. Often times the mood or lyrics of a song can give you a great deal of insight into what resonates with your child right now. That time together may spark further conversation about what they’re feeling or just provide you with a glimpse of their musical taste. Tuning in to the right music can not only help you connect with your child, it may actually change their mind when they need it most.