Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Can you think of a time that your precious little baby looked up at you and it melted your heart? Do you want to see more of your infant’s cute toothless smile? Then, I recommend singing to your baby! Yep, I just used an exclamation point because it is vital that you sing to your little one.
Why is it so important? Well, singing to your child basically supercharges their brain. In a study of how infants respond to different forms of expression, Costa-Giomi (2014) found that when babies were sung to, their physical response significantly increased. If you need a more scientific sounding reason, how about infant musical exposure elicits mature neurological audio processing and refined ERP responses (Putkinen et al, 2013 and Williams et al, 2015), which is a fancy way of saying musical experiences increase your child’s brain activity.
So, why does this happen? Since we can’t ask the babies, here are a few considerations. First, little ones are interested in musical sounds. Thinking about my own kids when they were infants, I remember that they constantly replied and interacted as my wife sweetly sang lullabies. A great example of this was when she would sing to them while breast-feeding. As soon as they heard her sing, they would detach and affectionately gaze up at their beautiful mommy. Then after a few seconds, they snuggled back in and finished eating. While it was a bit messy, it was a genuine and lasting bonding experience.
Second, music gets those baby neurons jumping because music activates multiple areas of the brain, such as those associated with motor actions, emotions, and creativity (Akatemia, 2011). Yep, music is like a pinball machine for your child’s mind, as it energizes the brains connectivity networks. This is something that you probably experience everyday. For example, have you ever used music to reenergize while doing a boring task, like laundry or dishes? Once the music is playing, do you feel a burst of energy? Like you, your baby's mind is energized from the music.
Third, your baby likes your voice. Yes, I said your voice. For some of you this may be a shock and for others your are like “obviously.” But no matter what, your little baby loves your voice because it is familiar and safe. Again, adults do this with songs they know. Think about it; do you ever listen to the same tune over and over again? This is because it is familiar to you. Like you, your baby feels comfortable and safe when listening to familiar songs and timbres (quality of sound, which is your voice).
Beyond a few tidbits of research to prove why singing to your child is important, there is one more reason I’d like to focus on. Simply put, singing to your kids at any age is essential because it makes lasting connections. As a dad, I can say that there is little in life that is more precious than the interactions I have with my kids, which includes the songs that I share with them. As I have watched my kids grow, the songs that my wife and I sing to them are important because they are part of their identity and will stay with them for life.
So, it is time to sing. Take a few minutes now, after dinner, or when you put your child to sleep and sing them a song. Honestly, just sing the first song that comes to your mind. You don't need fancy instruments or a sound track; instead, all you need is your voice and your little one. Just think, as you sing you are connecting and nurturing that precious little mind.
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John Owens, Ph.D. is the author of Music at Home: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Musically Insightful Kids. Check out his upcoming books, articles, and courses at johnowensmusic.com.
Akatemia, S. (2011). Listening to music lights up the whole brain. ScienceDaily.
Costa-Giomi, E. (2014). Mode of presentation affects infants' preferential attention to singing and speech. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 32(2) 160-169.
Putkinen, V., Tervaniemi, M., & Huotilainen, M. (2013). Informal musical activities are linked to auditory discrimination and attention in 2–3‐year‐old children: an event‐related potential study. European Journal of Neuroscience, 37(4), 654-661.
Williams, K. E., Barrett, M. S., Welch, G. F., Abad, V., & Broughton, M. (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, 113-124.