Using Music to Help Kids With Transitions

Kids are wired to test boundaries. It's vital to their development and it helps them build the oh-so-important skill of independent thinking. (Well-behaved women rarely make history, right?) Even though we want our kids to learn to think freely and stand up for themselves, the way that it is expressed in that teeny, tiny 2-5 year-old body can be equally perplexing and exhausting. 

No jam left?! Tragedy.


That sock doesn't feel right? CRISIS. 

Parents are used to these kinds of big feelings. But let me tell you, if I can reduce the number of times it happens in my house... I'm going to do it. Because I only have so much energy in my tank.

The trick is to catch it before it happens. Boundary testing and big emotions often show up at times of transition. When you're trying to leave the house, bed time, getting in the car, going to school, ending one activity and starting another, etc.


Thankfully, you have a powerful tool at your disposal: MUSIC. 


Music provides structure. It provides something expected in what can be a chaotic moment. And with that structure, there's safety. When kids feel safe, they don't freak out. 

Here are some things that I have found useful in both a music therapy setting and at home. Give them a try and let me know what you think! 


1. Instead of telling them to speed up, use a song:

When you're in a hurry and your child is going the speed of a sloth, "Go faster, please!" or "Let's hurry!" can often be met with the opposite reaction (they're supposed to be doing that, remember?). Instead, start marching and singing, "The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah". That is WAY more fun and surprising. Fun and surprising are two things that little kids love, so there's a good chance they'll join in and follow you wherever you need them to go.

by Laurie Berkner


2. When it's time to clean up and/or move on:

Lots of parent's cue clean up with the famous Barney song, "Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere". It's a useful one. If it works, use it! 

Some kids need more notice. It's the song before the clean up song that makes all the difference. Think of your "transition song" like a timer that you've set for your child, but instead of a timer, it's a song. You can teach your child that when the song comes on, they have the length of the song to finish what they're doing.

If you're at the park, leave when the song ends (and be consistent or this won't work). If there's clean up to do (at home or at a friend's house), immediately begin cleaning up after the transition song, and then immediately leave or move on to something else.

The goal is a calm, uneventful routine. Making it work will take consistency, practice and some trial and error. And despite your best efforts, it won't always work!

A song to try for your clean up song:


3. Drop-off with a babysitter or at school:

I play specific music for my daughter on the way to preschool due to occasional anxiety in the car on the way there. She sings with me. It's a good distraction for her, but I also see her breathing deeply (singing requires that) and responding to the lyrics. Our song? 

by Sara Bareilles feat. Jason Mraz

If you have tears and anxiety at the moment of drop off, establish a plan and a routine with your child. For example: "We are going to quietly sing our song, then I am going to give you one hug and two kisses, and then I'll go." Talk this through a lot ahead of time and then follow through. It's the consistency of the routine that will provide comfort over time. 

Some options of quick songs to sing as part of your transition: Skimmaradink, You Are My Sunshine & I Love You a Bushel and a Peck. 


4. Bed time

Something that continues to amaze me as a parent is how the bed time transition can be so easy at some stages of development, and then be completely different (ahem, impossible) at others. Through all of our trial and error, one thing never failed us: the routine. 

Bedtime routines are key. Do the same things in the same order every single night. For us: 1. bath, 2: jammies, 3: brush teeth, 4: books, 5: song, 6: lights out and a kiss goodnight.

The song should be the exact same song every night, starting when they're as little as possible. Read more about selecting and implementing a nighttime lullaby HERE. When the same lullaby is used consistently, the song "cues" sleep. My daughter literally yawns when she hears the first few notes of her song... even 4 years later. This is her lullaby: 

(from Mary Poppins) sung by Julie Andrews


More about night time routines (songs for bathtime, brushing teeth, etc.) coming SOON!

I'd love to hear from you... how are you using music at home with your child?






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