Ever listen to a piece of music that just compels you to nod your head or tap your foot? Adults and older children do it all the time. It’s called entrainment – your physiology is matching the rhythm of the song.
For babies, the response is more internal than external. They may not have the physical abilities to nod or tap like adults do, but they certainly have the mental ability sync up to a song. And it turns out, entraining to music helps them keep calm!
In a recent study from the University of Montreal, babies were shown to stay calm twice as long when listening to a song as they did when listening to someone speak. The song was unfamiliar (they listened to Turkish play songs!) and they listened to recordings so the performances were the same for all the babies. The babies also had no interactions with their parents during the study.
According to Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language:
“Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants’ composure for extended periods … Even in the relatively sterile environment of the testing room–black walls, dim illumination, no toys, and no human visual or tactile stimulation—the sound of a woman singing prolonged infants’ positive or neutral states and inhibited distress.” (via NeuroScienceNews.com)
This is especially important for “at-risk” parents who tend to respond with frustration and anger to their children’s distress due to their own high-stress life situations. To prevent infant neglect or abuse:
“At-risk parents within the purview of social service agencies could be encouraged to play vocal music to infants and, better still, to sing to them.” (source)
Babies don’t yet have the skills of emotional self-regulation and emotional self-control. These things are developmental skills that come once baby’s brain is more developed. Until then, they rely heavily on their caregivers to help them cope with all their emotions – scared, tired, frustrated, confused. etc.
Instead of taking to your baby to help them through it (“It’s okay. You’re okay. Hush now, it’s time to sleep.”) try singing instead.
Need some ideas? Check out Super Simple Learning’s hour-long video of their Favorite Kids’ Songs and Nursery Rhymes. You’ll hear all the classics – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Wheels on the Bus, and more!