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Bonding Through Song

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If you are reluctant to sing because you think you sing off key, you may be missing out on an especially loving experience with your child. Children love music, and they especially love simple songs sung to them by their special folks — you! (Remember that young children do not expect their parents to be able to successfully audition for the Metropolitan Opera House.) In fact, singing is a wonderful way in which to increase the loving, intimate feelings between you and your child. Singing can also be used to soothe your child when he's unhappy, create a bedtime ritual, or entertain him on a rainy day. These should be reasons enough to sing out! Remember that the only “critic” in the room will be you. Here is how to make the most of musical times with your child:
 
Sing the Same Songs Over and Over Babies love simple songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Often they garble the sounds and try to sing along with you. Be sure to repeat the melody and words over and over. The repetition helps little ones learn the words as well as the tunes. In addition, young children love to hear favorite songs over and over again in the same way they like to hear a cherished book read countless times. You will likely tire of “Row, Row Your Boat” before he does! If you have forgotten the words to most children's songs, you might buy a CD of children's music and sing along to it, or get a book of rhymes and songs. Watch how your child reacts as you sing. Does he sway to the music? Does he dance around slowly in a little circle with a dreamy look on his face? Your child's body motions tell you how secure and good the music makes him feel. Some toddlers try to wave their arms as they twirl around in time with a favorite tune.
 
Provide Variations in Tempo Change the beat of a song, according to your child's temperament, mood, or the time of day. Some toddlers love a livelier tune, while others prefer slower melodies. Infants as young as 8 months love to bounce their bottoms in time with a rhythmic chant or song. At bedtime, choose soothing lullabies. Slow the pace and use a lower voice to sing your little one into slumber.
 
Develop Dexterity Finger play songs are fun — and challenging — for toddlers. "The Itsy Bitsy Spider” is tricky because they have to learn how to imitate your finger movements that accompany the words "Up the water spout," your arm movements for "Down came the rain" and your wider arm movements for "Out came the sun.” Your child will gain control over fine motor movements as he struggles to master the hand motions for the songs he loves. Another popular song is "The Wheels on the Bus." Kids love this song not only for the lyrics and hand motions, but for the funny verse that goes, "The babies on the bus go 'Wah wah wah! '" Young children love to imitate these syllables that represent the crying of the babies on the bus in this song.
 
Provide Simple Instruments Some toddlers like to make their own music while singing. If your child is ready to handle some instruments, keep in a small basket a variety of simple, toddler-safe toys that make sounds. These could include a drum for banging, or a maraca or wrist bells to shake.
 
Tune into Your Child's Own Songs Many toddlers enjoy music time so much that if you listen carefully when they play alone, you can hear them try to repeat the melodies you have sung over and over. Don't be surprised if you also hear your child making up melodies of his own, even humming syllables to go along with his own tunes. You will enjoy seeing how your singing times have resulted in your child creating his own music!
 
Dance Together When you're stuck inside due to inclement weather, put on a CD with music your child loves. Take him in your arms and dance — he will be delighted! Hum the melody as you waltz around the room. Humming and dancing together is a great alternative way to spend your music time — and it confirms how wonderful music is for cheering the spirit even when the weather is gloomy!
 
Share Your Child's Favorite Songs Just as you fill your care provider in on your child's favorite books and snacks, be sure to let her know about your child's musical preferences. She will appreciate knowing if your child likes fast, upbeat tunes over the slower ones she may have been singing or your little one may prefer to sway dreamily to music sung much slower than the jazzy fast beats some adults prefer. In fact, getting in sync with his musical tastes, including favored songs, is another way for your care provider to signal continuity between home and child care. It adds to your child's sense of safety and security as she “tunes in” to his whole world!

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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