Creating Harmony: How Music Can Support Social Emotional Development

The simple and enjoyable act of making music with your child naturally fosters important social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, self-confidence, leadership skills, social skills, and socio-emotional intelligence.

Lauren Guilmartin
Lauren Guilmartin
Director of Early Learning
Music Together
®

Making music with your child can be so much fun for both of you, whether you’re singing along to the radio in the car, jamming on plastic bowl “drums,” or dancing to songs on your iPod.  Plus, music-making helps your child’s development in many important ways. The best part? You don’t have to have a great singing voice or play a musical instrument to have an impact. The simple and enjoyable act of making music with your child naturally fosters important social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, self-confidence, leadership skills, social skills, and socio-emotional intelligence.

In fact, recent research[i] has found that preschoolers who engaged in participatory group music and movement activities showed greater group cohesion, cooperation, and prosocial behavior when compared to children who did not engage in the same music activities. Singing and dancing together led to increased empathy (the ability to understand and even share in the feelings of others) for the children with whom they were making music. Even in infancy,[ii]adult-child music and movement interactions can lead to better communication and increased emotional and social coordination and connection, both rhythmically and emotionally, between the adult and the child. Researchers propose this might support infants’ earliest abilities to engage in positive social interactions with others.

So, you can have fun making music with your whole family and know that you are also supporting your child’s social and emotional growth. Here are some ideas for music activities you can try at home to specifically support several areas of socio-emotional learning.

Self-control and Self-regulation

Singing a song like “A Ram Sam Sam” (from the Fiddle Song Collection), where you are challenged to incrementally leave out a phrase in the song, is a fun way for children to practice the crucial skill of impulse control in daily life. You can try this technique with any song you and your children know. As you sing a familiar tune, ask your child to leave out one of the words in the next lyric/phrase. During this game, children exercise self-control and self-regulation and experience what it feels like to resist doing something. It’s the same concept at work in the popular backyard game “Red Light, Green Light!”

Self-confidence and Leadership Skills

Ask your child to lead YOU in a favorite song, maybe one she learned at school or from your Music Together class. Just follow your child’s lead whether she gets the lyrics or melody “right” or not. This simple activity gives her a chance to be the leader—and supports her self-confidence as she experiences that her way of interpreting the song is accepted and embraced by you. Similarly, songs that ask children to come up with their own word or sound also support self-confidence and leadership skills. For example, in “One Little Owl” (from the Tambourine Song Collection), children can choose an animal to sing about and imitate its sound in their own way.

Social Skills and Socio-emotional Intelligence

Whether making music with just you or with the whole family, group music-making challenges children to work with others as an “ensemble.” They learn the importance of respecting others’ space and how they express themselves. They also get to practice working together towards a common goal (e.g., when holding hands while dancing). Respect, collaboration, and working as a team are all important social skills for your child to develop.

Empathy Development

Making music in a group also challenges children to watch the people around them for subtle cues to timing, volume, and expressiveness—the same cues that we use for reading expressions and moods on people’s faces. Being able to perceive and understand people’s feelings is a basis for empathy and moral development.

Actively making music with your child is a fun and easy way to support your child’s socio-emotional learning, helping them to develop self-regulation, self-confidence, leadership skills, social skills, and much more! So, the next time you sing with your child, try some of the activities suggested here. And remember, it doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself “musical.” Your joyful participation and enjoyment is what is most important!

Originally published at parenttoolkit.com.


[i] Kirschner, S. & Tomasello, M. (2010). Joint music-making promotes prosocial behavior in 4-year-old children. Evolution and Human Behavior31, 354-364.

[ii] Gerry, D., Unrau, A., & Trainor, L. J. (2012). Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development. Developmental Science, 15(3), 398-407.

Cirelli, Jurewicz, Trehub (2018). Musical rhythms in infancy: social and emotional effects. Cognitive Neuroscience Society, 25 Annual Mtg, March 24-27, Boston

Cirelli, L.K., K. M. Einarson., L.J. Trainor (2014). Interpersonal synchrony increases prosocial behavior in infants. Developmental Science. 17:6, pp. 1003-1011.

Kirschner, S., M. Tomasello (2009). Joint drumming: Social context facilitates synchronization in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 102, pp. 299-314.

Williams. K. E., M.S. Barrett, G.F. Welch, V. Abad, M. Broughton. (2015). Associations between early shared music activities in the home and later child outcomes: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 31, pp. 113-124.

Winsler, A., A. Koury. (2011) Singing one’s way to self-regulation: the role of early music and movement curricula and private speech. Early Education and Development, 22: 2, pp. 274-304.