Category Archives: Science of Music

The Science of Music: Controlling Children’s Impulses Through Music

Our series of blog articles for parents on The Neuroscience of Music* continues with how music can help parents control impulses in their children, or more importantly, help children to control their own impulses through “inner speech.”

According to Dr. Dee Coulter, a renowned brain science educator, children need to develop impulse control to be successful in learning, social interactions, and performing complex movement tasks. Dr. Coulter identifies three elements of impulse control – the ability to calm, the ability to wait, and one last skill that develops more slowly – inner speech. Our last two blog articles touched on the impact of music on children’s ability to be patient and be calm. This installment focuses on the use of music to develop a child’s inner speech.

Inner speech is a kind of “self-talk” children use to guide their actions. Here are some insights and suggestions for parents to help their child discover their inner speech:

Inner Speech is Out Loud Until Age 8 or 9 – We can hear children speak out loud to direct their actions or narrate what they are doing. In motor tasks, they may use this “outer-speech” as they tie their shoes, make the shapes of letters, or play Simon Says. In music, this self-talk is developed when words are linked to movements like “head, shoulders, knees and toes” or stories in song that are acted out while singing. As the words are repeated over time they become automated. By age 4 or 5, this self-talk becomes strong enough to override temptations and children can use it to control their impulses. Later, children will need this inner speech skill to guide them while silent reading.

How to Teach Inner Speech in Babies and Toddlers:

  • Sing and talk to your baby or toddler often. Research continually shows that the more children are spoken to as infants, the better their language skills will be later in life. Strong language skills, in turn, lead to improved social skills and better listening and learning skills for school.
  • You will probably notice that your baby or toddler reacts even more favorably to your singing voice as they do when you are simply speaking to them. Singing is calming and soothing to them, so they will instinctively pay closer attention. Make up songs to explain what chores you are doing or what is happening in the world around them. Put their familiar nursery rhymes to music and sing them.

Teaching the Preschooler and Beginning School Age Child:

  • To be a great self-talk coach, show them how by talking to yourself out loud. Just talk as if no one else is there and you are just thinking out loud about how to do these things. Narrate for your child as you do household chores, go to the post office, shop for groceries, or watch the activity at a sibling’s sports event.
  • Recalling song lyrics and stories also builds inner speech. Enjoy singing with your preschooler and beginning school age child, too. Help them master the lyrics to traditional as well as contemporary children’s songs. Many of these songs tell stories, or narrate actions. You will be helping your child build impulse control and perform better in school.

Teaching your child to perform self-talk or inner speech, through music has many lasting benefits, including problem-solving, patience, confidence, and impulse-control. Hearing music and songs from caregivers from the earliest ages help to teach children to sing or talk through everyday tasks. Children’s song lyrics are often a manifestation of describing actions or stories, which help them begin to develop their own inner voice.  

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.

The Science of Music: How Children Learn Patience Through Music

This second installment in our series of blog posts on The Neuroscience of Music* explores how music can help parents teach their children to wait and be patient. Boy, have parents been waiting for this one!

Researchers often call it the ability to delay gratification and say that it is the single most important requirement for developing impulse control, for resisting addictive behavior, for handling the confusion of new learning, and for setting goals and working toward meeting them. While this desired behavior can be taught to children, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

Using Negative Strategies are Ineffective – If we get overly firm and insist on making a child wait, they will see no point in waiting when we aren’t around to discipline them. We want them to be able to practice patience on their own:

  • Make sure there is enough for children to share once their turn comes. Whenever there is too much scarcity, children will learn to take what they need as soon as they get the chance.

Teaching Babies and Toddlers to Wait – There are some simple exercises and “games” that stretch the moments of anticipation of delight.

  • Songs and movement games are helpful in creating anticipation and embedding small wait times. Who can forget waiting for the POP in “Pop, Goes the Weasel,” or the anticipation of the fall in “Humpty, Dumpty?”
  • With infants also play little movement and touch games, such as circling your finger around and then gently landing it on their nose.
  • Use reward to encourage patience. Toddlers may learn the patience it takes to put on a coat or shoes if they know they are going outside to play. Baking cookies teaches them that waiting patiently has it rewards as the warm goodies come out of the oven! Of course, it is also tough for adults to wait for the cookies to cool!

Teaching the Pre-schooler and Beginning School Child

  • Sing songs with your child that involves claps, pauses, and exact timing. This not only teaches patience and anticipation, but will also help develop a strong sense of rhythm.
  • Create some family times that involve some kind of ceremony, such as setting the table before dinner or saying the blessing before digging in. This teaches pre and school age children that there is a waiting period before the gratification of eating, etc.
  • In anticipation of a coming event, such as a birthday or another special occasion, mark a calendar and observe each day with anticipation to the BIG day. Think the 8 days of Hanukkah, or (sing) the 12 Days of Christmas. Saving up or preparing for an event can also teach patience, such as saving money for a vacation, or buying presents for a future event.

As you may have noticed, the exercises above not only teach children to wait, but also can have the same effect on parents! Those of us who already have children know the importance of patience, and that we should always teach by example.

*Musikgarten Delivers: The Neuroscience of Music collection by Dr. Dee Coulter is available for $10 in the Product Catalog section of our Teacher Portal. Username and password are required. You may also contact Musikgarten at 800-216-6864 to purchase.