Music Helps Through Tough Transitions


Last week, I noticed a lot of kids struggling with transitions, both my own children and the children I work with in my sessions. This time of year can be difficult for kids who are struggling to deal with the changing routine. Snow storms, freezing temperatures and school vacations are all contributors to breaks in the day-to-day and it is fairly common to see these struggles in our children's behavior. Have you seen any of these behaviors in the last few weeks?


Alas...Music can help! 

Here are a few ways that music can reduce your child's struggles through transitions like waking up, arriving, leaving, waiting, changing activities or changes to the day-to-day and even week-to-week routine.



Abrupt or unplanned changes can cause quite a bit of anxiety for a child, especially if they are needing to move from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity. Music is processed in the whole brain and the repetition and structure of a song can help a child to organize time. Our brains love patterns so a repeating melody can help regulate anxiety associated with uncertainty of what will happen next. Adding lyrics about an upcoming change to the repeating melody will help your child start to prepare for the transition. 


Rhythm helps organize music and I already mentioned how much our brains like patterns. Rhythm provides patterns that our brains deem safe. Once our brain is comfortable with the pattern, it can decide what to do with it. Using music with a strong and steady beat can stimulate movement without even verbally communicating that we need to move. At home, you can easily choose a familiar melody and change the words. Check out the example below.

ie. (To the tune of The Ants Go Marching)

We have to put our toys away
Away... Away!
We have to put our toys away
Away... Away!
We have to put our toys away
So we can go outside to play
Let's put our toys away


Moving from one place to another abruptly can be a struggle. Music may help to pass the time when we are waiting for the next experience but music can also act as a bridge to close the gap. Changes in the music can reflect changes that are about to occur or currently occurring in the child's environment. Music can connect one environment to the next providing a feeling of safety and structure as the transition is made. Music therapists often use music that matches an individuals mood and behavior and then provide musical elements to move the individual's mood or behavior in a positive direction. For example, when I enter a preschool class room where the children are energetically scattered about the room, a gathering song is an efficient way to signal the children that music will begin soon and subtly prepare them for what is next. I might begin to play very loudly with a strong rhythm to get their attention. If they are very energetic, I would put great energy into the music. As the children move to the music space and begin to settle, whether that is sitting in a circle or simply gathering in a designated area, I would begin to transition the music to the energy that I want in my music group, typically bringing them to a more calm and grounded placed where they can focus and engage positively in the music experiences I am about to present.