Music Therapy for Children - What are the Benefits?

How Music Therapy Can Inspire Kids to Communicate Through Song

Music is an incredibly useful resource when it comes to providing people with a source of joy, relief, or relaxation in times of stress. Music therapy has been proven to relieve stress and pain, as well as improve communication and self-expression in many individuals. Especially in the case of young children though, music therapy is incredibly effective. Engaging with music stimulates many different parts of the brain across both hemispheres. As opposed to engaging with subjects like reading, writing, or mathematics, which correlate to specific areas of the brain being stimulated, engaging with music breaks down the boundaries between the two hemispheres of the brain. For children, who are still in the early stages of cognitive development, this makes music especially stimulating and engaging.

  • Teaching Children Through Music
  • How Music Relieves Anxiety and Stress
  • Benefits of Music Therapy for Children with Autism 
  • The Different Effects of Music Therapy on Children of all Ages

Teaching Children Through Music

One way of understanding how children in particular benefit so much from engaging with music can be seen in how we teach young children to remember things. We teach children songs that help them learn the alphabet, their multiplication tables, the days of the week, and even make up songs with them so they can remember their peer’s names. Not only is music useful as a memorization tool but also as an incentive to participate in a classroom setting. Part of what makes music such an effective tool is in how it creates a fun environment for children, an environment that they want to actively engage and learn in. 

These very common and widely accepted teaching practices show how beneficial music can be in encouraging children to become more active and engaged. Music affects more than just the mind too, engaging with instruments in group settings is an especially great way for children to improve their fine motor skills. Especially when performing in an ensemble children have to learn to become more focused on their own awareness of their surroundings in order to play in rhythm with the other performers around them. All of these skills can be improved through learning about, listening to, and playing music, and are especially valuable to children who are still in critical stages of their cognitive development. 

Many children in an auditorium holding up their colorful Ukelele's overhead.
Learning an instrument in an ensemble can benefit children’s developing social skills. 

How Music Relieves Anxiety and Stress

At the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, music therapy has been widely implemented in caring for young patients, leading to a reported decrease in distress by 20% and pain by 10%. For many children, music provides alleviation from anxiety as they may still be learning how to communicate their thoughts and find it easier to approach this through music as opposed to doing so through spoken or written forms. Calming or slow music can decrease one’s heart rate if they are experiencing acute stress or anxiety. Because of music’s nature as incredibly stimulating to many parts of the brain, it is an excellent resource for helping us process information around us as well as our own emotions. 

Child with headphones on holding them over his ears with a peaceful look on his face.
Listening to music is a fantastic way to quickly alleviate some anxiety.

Benefits of Music Therapy for Children with Autism 

Music therapy is particularly beneficial for children who struggle with anxiety disorders or autism in aiding with the development of speech, fine motor skills, cognition, and social skills. One reason for this is that, as mentioned before, engaging with music causes stimulation of both hemispheres of the brain. In a classroom setting in particular this would make focusing and communicating one’s thoughts much easier for children who may ordinarily struggle to do so. 

Research has also shown that because children with Autism struggle to engage socially the introduction of musical instruments can help them discover easier access points to social situations, offering children an opportunity to gain confidence in communicating with their peers. This is not only caused by engaging with the instrument itself but also by seeing how in group ensembles many instruments that are being played at once need to interact with one another.

The Different Effects of Music Therapy on Children of all Ages 

Because an infant has a different level of understanding of what music is than a teenager does, for example, there needs to be a different approach to offering them music therapy. All of the following practices are employed at Children’s Minnesota and have been tailored to children of specific age groups so as to maximize the positive outcome children can expect from engaging with music. 

In infants, music therapy mainly works toward reducing stress. By being sung to or by playing music for infants music therapists are able to lower infants’ heart rates if they are experiencing stress. With toddlers, the anxiety they might feel in their healthcare experience if they are in the hospital or going into surgery can be vastly improved through listening to calming music. In slightly older children who are able to more actively engage with music by learning to play an instrument or to sing their favorite songs these activities promote higher self-esteem and allow them to feel that they have more control. All of these approaches work quite well as coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.

Child sitting at a piano with their hand on the keys while a parent sits behind them.
Learning to play an instrument through music therapy helps challenge children’s developing motor skills.

All in all, music therapy has many positive effects on people of all ages. For children in particular though, music therapy allows them to engage more actively with the world around them and cope with certain situations that may be difficult for them to understand or communicate their feelings about. Because music has such powerful effects on us emotionally, mentally, and even physically, music therapy is an incredibly powerful tool and coping mechanism for children who are still developing cognitively and are not able to communicate their thoughts and emotions with as much ease as adults.

Lily Taggart
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