The Benefits of Music: On Toddlers

practicing piano

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve been to a music class for toddlers—or two or three. Baby music classes are near universal. And their popularity lies not only in the fact that they’re just literally something to do—for parent and baby—a way to get out of the house, connect with other parents, give your baby another face to look at; their benefits are also backed by science. But even if baby music classes are not your thing, incorporating music into your child’s life is probably second-nature—something you didn’t even need to think about, but that you automatically do and did. From the ABCs, to “Clean Up” songs, to “Happy Birthday,” and Getting-to-Know-You songs, kids are saturated with music from an early age. Because as parents, you instinctively know that music is an incredible way to teach and to connect with your child. And what about toddlers in particular? They’re walking, they’re talking, and they need a ton of stimulation. Music, with its brain-boosting, stress-relieving, social bond-facilitating effects, is vital for your toddler’s development. So let’s dive into just a few of the myriad benefits of music on toddlers.

Social Engagement

As we discussed in our last article, infants are actually more likely to help someone if they’ve just been bouncing to some music with that person, according to a study from McMaster University in Ontario. As infants grow into toddlers, their worlds expand: they are able to take in more around them—including people, sounds, sensory experiences. When you bring music into this new world, they are getting an important experience of togetherness and harmony with those around them. As Daniel Levitin, author of the seminal book, This Is Your Brain on Music, illuminates, singing with others actually syncs your brain waves with your fellow singers. Feeling part of a community and connected to others is a key factor in a child’s development.

Gross & Fine Motor Skills Development

You may have noticed that your toddler is a bit klutzy. Not to worry, though! 1) This is to be expected and completely normal as they are literally growing muscles and bones before your eyes and 2) You can help them along with some music. According to Modulations Therapies, a music therapy blog, “Research shows that music training enhances the development of motor skills in children. Instrumental training in early childhood enhances fine motor skills, or the ability to use small muscle movements, and also results in structural brain changes. Music and movement classes have been shown to improve complex locomotor skills, such as galloping, leaping, and skipping.”

Emotional Intelligence & Emotional Outlet

You may assume that your toddler is quite good at expressing their emotions already: screaming crying fit or ecstatic joy—toddlers are, in general, not afraid of letting it all hang loose. But their range of emotions may not be super nuanced at this point, which means they can’t fully express themselves, or they can’t express themselves in a way that feels right at every moment, which can make them even more frustrated and prone to tantrums. Music, however, can help children learn about their emotions. A study published in Nature found that “listening to a favorite song alters the connectivity between auditory brain areas and the hippocampus, a region responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation.” So listening to music can help you focus on your emotions. And simply paying attention to your emotions can help you identify those emotions, in addition to potentially soothing your emotions and mood, and increasing your focus: a child may realize that they’re not, in fact, screaming-crying-fit-angry, for example, but rather, just a little bit sad. On the other hand, a shy child may feel license to open up and sing their heart out when music comes into the mix, providing a safe forum for expression and creativity.

Language Development

Finally, language development only continues to increase as babies grow into toddlers and as music continues to be part of their lives. “Music and Early Language Acquisitions,” a study published in 2012, posits that children initially learn language precisely through its musicality, and that “language and music are deeply entangled in early life and develop along parallel tracks.” The authors of the study describe language from a developmental perspective as “a special type of music in which referential discourse is bootstrapped onto a musical framework.” And because music and language development are so closely entwined in the early years of life, many milestones in both language acquisition and music fluency happen at the same time. They are parallel intelligences, inseparable, and quite possibly, dependent on each other.