Singing is an intrinsic part of raising children. When a baby cries, it feels right to hum a lullaby. We sing action songs and nursery rhymes with our toddlers and young children. I have even spoken to parents whose adolescent children ask them to sing to them when they are feeling insecure and overwhelmed. Song is a unique way of connecting and communicating, and it carries with it benefits for both the singer and the listener.
Many wonderful things happen when a child is sung to. Songs can be used for storytelling, cultural exchange, to calm, to excite and to incite discussion. For the singer, the act of singing increases cardiovascular function, lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins and lowers stress levels, with consequent increase in immune function.
Singing to babies is particularly powerful. All positive mother-baby interaction leads to the release of beta endorphins for both, promoting feelings of well-being and increased relaxation, and this is especially true for when a baby is being held and sung to.
There is a direct correlation between singing and the development of language. The folk songs of every culture carry with them the signature inflections of the ‘mother tongue’ language, and help to wire the child’s ear, voice and brain to engage with this language.
If you are worried that you don’t sing well enough, relax! For your child, your voice is the safest and most familiar sound, and is far better than any recorded music. Just as children learn language in interactive environments by being engaged in live conversation, they will gain the most benefit from being sung to directly by their caregivers.
You can begin singing to your child before they are even born – amniotic fluid is a great conductor of sound. Babies begin to respond to sound in the womb from around 18 weeks gestation, and the ability to recognise voices and even songs develops quite significantly by the end of pregnancy.
All through my pregnancy with my son Joshua, my husband Jamie sang one song to my belly, over and over again. When Josh was born, Jamie held him and sang that song, and immediately Josh stopped crying and stared quietly at him (and our midwife started to cry instead). Six months on and Josh still settles immediately when Jamie sings “You Are My Sunshine.”
– This article was originally written for Children’s Books Daily