How Does Music Help to Calm us Down?

Monday 23rd March 2015
– Julie Wylie

Music is a language of the emotions. It is a natural sedative which is able to cause the release of relaxing chemicals into our system such as dopamine. When a song is sung slowly and softly and combined with slow rocking from foot to foot metre: one, two, three, one, two three (“Row,Row, Row Your Boat” Rock,Rock, Rock Your Boat”) it can reduce feelings of panic, or over-arousal and bring us to a state of relaxation and calm.

When teachers or parents see children becoming over-aroused, this is the time to match the child’s energy levels through song. Start with the same level of high arousal in the song.  Sing at the same volume and pace as the child’s energy level. Gradually help to slow the child down and to relax through the same song and slow rocking from foot to foot.  Bring your voice dynamics right down to soft, depending on the child’s emotional state. Use the tune from the song “Open Shut Them”. Start with bouncing or jumping with faster music, but gradually bring the song down to a slow rocking action.

“We are jumping,

We are jumping ,

We are jumping fast,

We are jumping,

We are jumping

Now we’re going to stop”.

Gradually slow down. “We are jumping slowly together, we are slowing down, we are jumping, jumping together, now get ready to stop”.  We are rocking, rocking together, rocking very slowly, we are rocking, rocking slowly, now we’re going to stop”. Keep singing until the child is really calm. The use of such an instructional song helps the child to feel supported with the matching of their high energy through the volume and rhythmic movement of the song, then to hear and feel the words of the song as it becomes gradually softer, calm, then slow. It helps them to anticipate each step of the sung instruction.

Take your cue from the child. Is the child still very aroused? Then keep the movement and song at the child’s pace, but with the aim that you can both slow down and become calm together. Repetition and the gradual slowing down through use of the same song, helps you and the child to learn self-calming strategies.  Make sure the music environment is calm.

Through constant repetition of a song and movement which goes from high arousal to a slow, steady, predictable tempo, the brain learns to adapt and to modify highly aroused responses and to come to a state of calm and regulation. Remember children can only learn when they are calm and well-regulated.