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Why is Songwriting so important for kids' mental health?

Mental health in kids under 12yo can look very different to how it manifests in teens and adults. Symptoms and behaviours can be tricky to spot in little ones, often because they haven’t developed the language to describe how they feel yet. Let’s have a look at how songwriting can assist kids in managing their own mental health.


Songwriting can help with:


1. Recognising emotions.


How can you communicate your emotional needs if you don’t know which emotion you are feeling? Maybe your child has a sore tummy, but they are really experiencing anxiety. Perhaps they have sore legs, but they are actually stressed about attending kindy. Through the music therapy method of songwriting, Registered Music Therapists (RMTs) assist kids to learn which emotion they are feeling and when they are feeling it.


RMTs might use flashcards showing different emotions or facial expressions to assist kids with recognising emotions. They may help create little rhymes/short songs which describe the physical symptoms of certain emotions, such as:


“When I’m angry my voice turns loud,

It’s hard to make a quiet sound.

When I’m angry my face turns red,

I really don’t want to go to bed.”


Or:


“My tummy is scrunchy,

I’m listening less,

My hands are all sweaty,

This feeling is stress.”


By encapsulating emotions and feelings into simple songs and rhymes, kids learn to recognise what they are feeling and when. It’s also handy for parents and carers to learn these songs so that emotional recognition can occur in the home outside of music therapy sessions.


2. Communicating emotions to others.


We know that most tantrums or breakdowns of behaviour are actually kids trying to communicate what they feel without having the tools they need. RMTs can help bridge the gap in communication within families by helping the child to create songs about how they’re feeling. These can range from only detailing the emotion itself, to specific situations and events in the home which are affecting the child. Often the songs include specific requests for fulfilling emotional needs, such as:


“Hey Mum, my eyes are crying

And my heart is beating fast.

Can you squeeze me very tightly,

So I feel calm at last.”


The above is part of a song that I wrote together with a 6-year-old client who was struggling to know what to do with her heightened emotions in times of stress. In collaboration with her Mum, they tried deep breathing, star jumps, soft hugs and squeezy hugs. The squeezy hugs worked best for this child who was learning to regulate her nervous system. So now they have a song to use when they need it, and both she and her Mum know what to do.


3. Self-validation of difficult emotions.


Validation is a hallmark of trauma-informed care. By validating someone’s difficult emotions, they can feel safe enough to sit with their feelings and explore different ways of managing them. Self-validation is an immensely useful tool in being able to regulate yourself and your big emotions, so why not teach this to kids?


Below is a song created in a session with an 11-year-old client dealing with feelings of anxiety.


“Today I had a very big feeling,

It grew and grew and reached up to the ceiling.

It’s thick and cloudy and gets in the way,

But sometimes it just wants to stay.

It will not stay forever,

But for now, it’s okay.”


By validating their feelings in the moment or directly after the fact, the child learns that big feelings are okay and that they just happen to everyone sometimes. The child is then empowered to try and manage their own big feelings with support from their music therapist and family.


Method Spotlight – Nonsense Songs!


Nonsense Songs incorporate an easy structure for communication and social skills within the mental health space. Child and therapist both take turns contributing a random sentence lyric of a song. The results are often hilarious, wild and effective at strengthening the therapeutic relationship when working with kids. Here’s an example:


Therapist: On Wednesday I went to the moon

Child: It was covered in blue ants

Therapist: I had to use my flying skateboard

Child: But I couldn’t understand the words


Take away:


Songwriting is not just for the teens and adults, it’s a valuable tool for all ages and can help to increase skills in emotional recognition, expression, regulation and validation. There is an endless journey of creativity to embark on, and plenty of tools to start with! You could even try replacing some lyrics in well-loved songs to relate to your child specifically. Good luck!

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