Music: the drug of choice for stroppy kids

9 August 2011, by Phillip Hodson
Singing to your child can leave a magical impression, and children are forgiving of parents with no talent. The second in our week-long series on children and music.

One of my hidden talents is that I can sing. Some people are unkind enough to say I don’t hide it quite well enough, usually after a few dozen pages of Handel’s Messiah. But as an ex-choirboy with broadcaster’s lungs, my talent lingers on, though the treble octave has fled.

And that’s been good news for my kids and their kids.

Picture the scene. Weeping child says he cannot go to sleep. Weeping mum says “you’re not coming into our bed”. Sleep-deprived spouse (me) racks brain and says, “Would you like a song?” Manipulative child replies, not for the first time: “Yeah, Cock Robin, all 24 verses, and don’t cut the choruses, plus a vodka martini.”

(I made up the bit about the vodka martini).

Don’t get me wrong. The kid’s taste in rubbish folksongs at the age of eight (Cock Robin) has suffered no lasting damage, since he’s now an undying fan of ‘Sheep on Drugs’.

But my principal point is that rubbish songs and dreadful singing have a magical impact on children who won’t sleep or calm down when you need them to.

I sang to all my children from their birth to early teens. Even today if I want to make them cringe I just need to ask, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” They all reply: “Me!”

When minding the twin grandchildren for the first time, with Twin A propelling himself towards the precipice of the outdoor patio and Twin B trying to remove the safety cap from a bottle of thick Domestos bleach, I only had to start humming a quiet ditty and they both stopped in their tracks, abandoned all thoughts of naughtiness and grinned their slightly unnerving tooth-free smiles and came and curled up in my lap.

This breakthrough in the childcare management of trainee delinquents works before the blighters can even talk! In fact, there is useful evidence that some form of musical appreciation is practically hard-wired into the human brain. I think it’s tunes and harmonious melody that soothes the savage beast in one’s progeny and I’m half-convinced that small children are as much entranced by the music on telly as by the pictures.

A word of caution for all serious musicians: if you own an instrument of value (as I do) never make the mistake of inviting baby fingers to caress the keys unsupervised. To my distress, when I am not there, I gather the twins are very fond of hammering on my not uncostly Yamaha upright with a mallet.

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