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The Right Songs to Calm Stir Crazy Kids

No one song or instrument offers a guarantee for calmness. But these area good start.

There are only 12 notes in music, but with them an endless combination of melodies can be created. Music has taken on even bigger role of easing the stress and uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. This goes especially for your kids. And there’s an ideal soundtrack to help kids navigate the feelings about the coronavirus pandemic but also help stir crazy kids chill out.

Kids understand that things are different right now, but for children under the age of nine, they don’t have the language and cognitive skills to fully articulate what it means to not be in class, not see their friends, and not be able to play freely. The feelings are there, but they end up spilling out with such behavior as tantrums, reclusiveness, and acting out.

So, what kind of sound track is the best to help kids who, like us, might be going a little stir crazy? Music has always been there to help kids, first with the heartbeat, then lullabies, theme songs,  and a way to learn the alphabet. It’s all encompassing, stimulating the body and the brain, releasing endorphins and dopamine. It provides an outlet for whatever is rumbling around. “They can share what they’re feeling and experiencing without the need for words,” says Scott Horowitz, clinical instructor in music therapy and counseling at Drexel University. “It taps a certain button.”

No one song or instrument offers a guarantee for calmness. But the typical prescription is 60 beats per minutes, like the ticking of clock, says, Lindsey Wilhelm, an assistant professor of music therapy at Colorado State University. Think “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay.

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But it’s music, not an equation. What’s comforting to one person could be stressful to another. “It’s really about knowing a person’s associations and preferences,” says Brian Jantz, music therapist and assistant professor of music therapy at Berklee College of Music.

Since a young child’s musical tastes aren’t fully defined, it gives the parent free reign to experiment. It’s important to remember, however, that whether children are down or wound up, they need time to let the feelings go. It might require a song-by-song transition. In music therapy, it’s called the iso-principle, where you meet the child where he or she is and then move him or her into a calmer direction. You’re not amplifying the energy, but you’re also not denying it, making your child feel acknowledged and the shift easier. “It’s validating,” Jantz says.

Songs to Help Calm Kids: A Sample Playlist

The following is not definitive, more a template of songs that meet your kids on whatever end they’re on. You want to personalize the lists for their tastes and have various options because moods change constantly, and Wilhelm says that between Google and Spotify it’s easy to search, find “songs that are just like …” and customize. You also want to everyone to take a turn as DJ. It gives kids a say and also some control, which probably isn’t in high supply these days, Jantz says. With those caveats, consider:

  • “Ocean Eyes”, Billie Eilish
  • “My Girl”, The Temptations
  •  “Three Little Birds”, Bob Marley
  • “Here Comes the Sun”, The Beatles
  • “Fix You”, Coldplay
  • “Brown Eyed Girl”, Van Morrison
  •  “You Really Got Me”, The Kinks

The songs in the center by Marley, The Beatles, and Coldplay, have relatively simple constructions, acknowledge sadness but offer hope. You can use the lyrics as an entrée and ask, “What are you worried about?”, or, “What would you fix?” Jantz says that with “Here Comes the Sun”, you can have everyone make up their own words about what comes next, the ice cream truck, my friends, a triceratops. Horowitz adds that you can ask your child to key in on one instrument for any song, which can him or her focus and make listening more active. You can also fold a piece of paper into four quadrants, play four songs, and have everyone write or draw whatever inspired them for each.

It also doesn’t have to be anything formal. You can make instruments with pots, spoons, containers and rice, and explore the house for high and low notes. Create a steady rhythm with your hands or voice, which can be grounding, and ask your child to match it or come up with something complementary. The biggest thing is that there’s no right or wrong, Horowitz says.

Mostly, watch your kids, don’t judge or over-analyze, and don’t force anything. They might share something profound, because, “Music helps to organize our movements, and it can organize our thoughts as well,” Jantz says. But they may just dance and say nothing, which is equally significant. During the pandemic, so much of parents’ energy is on maintaining safety, overseeing homework, and trying to do their own jobs. It requires focus and regularly saying “no.” Music recalibrates your relationship and gets back to having fun. “Play is where kids learn,” Horowitz says. “You can just be parent and child.”

Keep Yourself in Mind

Of course, music soothes you as you’re concentrating your energies on caretaking. Since your needs and feelings aren’t your children’s, you want to create your own playlist, and there’s no one place to look. You can go back to your teenage or college years, when things might have been simpler, but don’t linger there too long.

“It’s like looking at old photo albums every day. You’re not creating new memories,” says Jantz, who suggests checking out your Spotify list from December. You can reconnect with a time and the feelings pre-virus. “It helps you be more present right now and not stuck in an escape.”

This adds to helping your kids, because you’re happier and maybe just a bit more relaxed, if only for a few moments. “They pick up on our general mood and pick up on our body language,” he says. “It can be infectious.”