Everyday Ways to Tune In with Your Child
What if board-certified music therapists are hard to come by in your city? Or the cost of music therapy is too high? (The eight-week "Social Skills" program costs $224.) Here are a few effective, everyday ways that parents can use to harness music to help their children.
Turn Off the TV
"Kids with ADHD attend to everything," Catalano says. "They are more sensitive to auditory stimulation and less able to tune things out [like television]." Replace the chatter of Family Guy with the calming rhythms of music. Tomaino suggests experimenting with different styles, tempos, and artists to see what calms or rouses your child. Play Miles Davis while making dinner, the Beatles while doing a puzzle, or Beethoven while washing dishes -- and pay attention to how your child reacts.
Set the Mood
Hearing songs of varying rhythms can slow down or speed up your child's mental and physical processes. By selecting songs carefully, says Tomaino, you can trigger an intuitive, neurological reaction that your child doesn't know he is having. Does Lady Gaga get your daughter moving? Play it after school to burn off excess energy. Does Moby slow down her pace? Play it before bed to begin the daily wind-down.
"Rhythm, melody, and tempo are tools used to target non-musical behaviors, to catapult change throughout the body," says Rebecca West, with the Music Institute of Chicago. "A change in rhythm can trigger a reaction in the brain: 'Oooh, something's changed; I need to pay attention!' You can bring down the tempo to spur slower movements, or bring up the melody to trigger pleasure."
Create a Playlist
"Wash face. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Eat breakfast." Sure, you could write out each step in your child's morning routine and tape it to the bathroom mirror. Or you could download, create, and string together songs into a morning playlist that keeps him moving and reminds him to stay on task.
When Raffi's "Brush Your Teeth" hits its final note, he'll know it's time for a wardrobe change. And when Justin Bieber kicks in, it's time to pull up those socks and find the Nikes. Even better, write a getting-dressed song with your child and sing it together every morning until it becomes second nature.
"Music facilitates multi-step processing when executive-function deficits may make it difficult," says Tomaino.
Bang a Drum
"When I work to extend a child's attention, I sit alongside him with a drum," says Catalano. "I play a beat with clear phrases, the child repeats it, and we add beats each time. I’m asking him to listen, pay attention, and control his impulses. I'm also showing him that his turn is worth waiting for."
Parents need little more than an overturned pot, a wooden spoon, and a sense of humor to try this at home. Or use a hairbrush-microphone if you'd rather take turns singing Katy Perry. If nothing else, making music together will show your child that you enjoy harmony, too. And that can't hurt.
Don't Be a Critic
Your child may insist that Metallica helps him study. You may prefer Bach, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.
"Why are we attracted to one song or one symphony over another? It's a complex and personal brain function that is immeasurable," says Catalano.
Some children with sensory-processing disorders prefer silence to music. But many individuals with ADHD say that background rhythm and melody help them to concentrate. What's playing through those headphones doesn’t matter as much as its impact. If Eminem helps him focus, let it be.
"I'm more likely to concentrate in a buzzing coffee shop with headphones on than I am in a library," says Temple University student Carl O'Donnell. "Like people who use noise machines to fall asleep, I use music to concentrate."
This article appears in the Summer 2012 issue of ADDitude.
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To discuss this topic and other alternative therapies that help manage ADHD symptoms, visit the ADHD Alternative Treatments support group on ADDConnect.