Have you ever noticed that when you and your child find a good rhythm together, parenting just feels… easier?
What is it about rhythm that helps us get ‘into a flow’, and connect more effortlessly? What exactly does rhythm do for you and your child? Here’s 5 top ways that rhythm helps you—and your child.
Rhythm connects us—even when you’re expecting.
When I say that rhythm connects us, I mean literally—rhythm brings us in sync with one another. This is evident in the movement of our bodies: we clap or sway in time to the beat.
But it goes deeper than that. When we move in time together, we also feel emotionally in sync—more connected. Like we can understand each other.
This feeling of connecting in time and in emotion is HUGE in everyday life as a family! Think of the last time you really felt in sync with your child. What were you doing together? What did it feel like?
For me, when I’m really connecting with my child, it feels like we can pay close attention to each other. We can see eye to eye—even hear each other’s words better. It also feels natural to touch each other, whether we are singing or dancing, or just cuddling. My best moments as parent are when I feel totally connected to my child. We are in sync, following the same groove, and emotionally in tune with one another.
I began to nurture this feeling when I was expecting my first child. In fact, in those early days when I wasn’t quite sure how to connect with the life growing inside of me, I used music.
Putting on my favorite music (Latin Jazz) and dancing alone or with my husband, I knew that the sound and movement were reaching my child and stimulating her brain development. We were already moving in time to a beat together—beginning to form our relationship.
When you’re expecting, it’s not too early to begin nurturing that bond! The rhythm of music, as you sing or sway to the beat, is the beginning of real connection with your child.
2. Rhythm provides a flow—especially with a newborn!
The origin of the word rhythm is “flow”. And in those early days with a newborn baby, there’s nothing we need more than to feel like we’re finding a new flow!
Are you in this fresh new stage? (Or can you remember it?) If so, you know what I mean when I say that your previous sense of flow is totally upended. Is it day or night? What am I supposed to do next… and when??
This is when finding a familiar rhythm can really come in handy. Just to give an idea, here’s what my morning routine looked like with my newborn baby:
5:30am: Wake up! (My first child was a rooster.)
6:00: First feeding—in bed. (Hopefully, I slept through it!)
6:30: Make tea. Strong tea. And a big, nourishing breakfast.
7:00: Baby goes into the wrap for baby-wearing, music goes on, and we dance!
By 8:30 or so, it was time for her first nap (and possibly mine!)
Structuring our morning around that music and dancing time served several important purposes for us, especially: 1) to help me feel awake and energized, 2) to get a little exercise for my body, and 3) to give our day a sense of flow. The daze and confusion of the newborn weeks gradually settled into a sane routine that we could count on. That was good for me, and for my daughter.
3. Rhythm stimulates motor development in crawlers.
Babies will naturally get moving when their bodies (and brains) are ready. But if you have a baby over 6 months of age, you might have noticed that they really like to get moving when there’s music! This can be the sounds of your family’s favorite tunes, or the beat of a drum, or just an encouraging voice.
The evidence shows that babies move more in the presence of music than without, and even more so when the musical experience involves some social interaction.
What does this tell us about the baby’s brain? Well, a few things. For one, it shows how much musical rhythm is a driving force of development. It makes us want to move—all of us—and it stimulates the natural maturation of motor skills.
It also demonstrates just how much babies at this age want to be social! They are hungry for interaction, and music provides a natural outlet for that social bonding. You don’t have to be a great musician for this to work—you just have to be engaged.
Another point, and one that I think is really under-appreciated, is just how powerful the connection is between sound and movement. Think about it: when you hear the sound of a favorite rhythm, how hard is it for you to resist moving? And it gets better: my research has shown that when you move, it shapes how you hear the sounds. So listening is good… but listening and moving? That can be even better.
So when your baby gets moving, you can let the sound of music help stimulate her natural brain-body development. And when you join in, it’s stimulating your own brain-body connection, too.
4. Rhythm fosters cooperation.
What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of life with a toddler?
Not really, no. I’m just kidding.
So what’s one of the things you pray hardest for when you’re parenting your toddler? You got it—cooperation! Just a little bit. You know—putting on their pants before running naked out the door. Getting into their carseat, not trying to take over the wheel. Basic things. Small dreams.
Well, the hard truth is that with toddlers, their urge to explore the world on their own sometimes overpowers their desire to cooperate with mom or dad. So what can we do?
One solution is to use songs to encourage cooperation. The ‘clean up’ song' may seem cliché, but I use it EVERY DAY with my two-year-old. Multiple times a day. In fact, I use the tune of that song to apply to whatever we need to get done. Every evening after dinner and playtime, when it’s time to head upstairs and get into the bath, I sing “upstairs, upstairs, everybody, everywhere… upstairs, upstairs, everybody go upstairs”.
It’s amazing how effective it is. One minute my son could be screaming at the top of his lungs that he is NOT going to take a bath until he has built another 16 miles of train tracks throughout the living and dining rooms… and the next minute we’re all singing and marching in time up the stairs. He can’t resist! It’s totally reliable: when the team starts singing and marching in time, no one wants to be left behind… least of all, a toddler.
So when you find yourself in the situation of needing a little cooperation from your little one, try a song. Make one up—it doesn’t have to be fabulous, and it can even be ridiculous!
And if you’re having that kind of day where there’s not an ounce of energy leftover for creativity, just take the time-tested tune of the cleanup song, and start singing out loud. You might look back over your shoulder and see a little one marching behind you.
5. Rhythm keeps YOU moving, and growing.
Okay, we often focus on the child, but this one’s all about you.
When you think of the things that you used to do before having a child—things that may have been left behind, at least for a while… does music and dance ever come to mind? It does for me. More than anything else.
As a trained musician and an amateur dancer, for as long as I can remember my constant ways of experiencing flow, improving my mind and body, releasing tension and connecting with others were through making music and dancing. My activities ranged from professional to recreational, but regardless, they were a HUGE part of my identity, my cultural sophistication and my health.
Music and dance were also a huge part of my intelligence. Much research in music neuroscience shows that when we play music or dance it doesn’t just feel good—it shapes the brain, and influences how we think and feel. The benefits are huge.
We’ll return to this topic again, but for now I want you to ask yourself this question: Would it change my life a little bit if I brought some music or dance back into it? This could mean picking up your instrument, putting on your favorite artists at home with your family (yes, your children can listen to and learn from adult music!), or just going out to see a good show with friends.
Whatever you do, remember how rhythm keeps your body (and brain) moving, and keeps your own identity growing. This is an essential aspect of your true rhythm, and your children deserve to witness it.