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5 Ways Being a Music Therapist Affects Me as a Parent

by Kimberly on August 3, 2011 · 11 comments

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you likely know that I am the proud parent of two beautiful children. My poor children…not only is one parent a therapist, but the other is an educator! It’s a double-whammy in terms of analyzing how to best rear them 🙂

Seriously, though, there’s no way around it. Being a therapist deeply informs who I am and what I do as a parent.

My husband and I have talked a lot recently about what we hope to instill in our children in terms of values, beliefs, and skills. We’re influenced not only by our own knowledge, experience, and mentors, but also by listening to and learning from the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, the “Tiger Mother” (not kidding), and other writers and thinkers.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways I plan to rear my children that are deeply influenced by my knowledge as a music therapist. I share these with you fully understanding and acknowledging that they may turn into “I-was-never-going-to-use-cartoons-as-a-babysitter” types of ideas.

1) As long as you live in my house, you will take piano lessons

My husband and I met a composer who shared some of the house rules he and his wife had set for their children. The first one? As long as you live in my house, you will take piano lessons.

We thought it was brilliant.

Knowing what we know about how important music training is for the developing brain, I can’t see how we can NOT have our kids learn a musical instrument. It’s not that we dream of them having professional music careers, but the skills they will development and learn as a musician will transfer to anything else they decide to do in life.

Why piano? For one, if you can read piano music, you can read almost any other type of music out there. And two, learning to play the piano is like learning to swim. Once you achieve a certain skill level…you can do it for life.

2) Time-Outs are Necessary Breaks

One of the skills I learned working with trauma-influenced children is how to help them calm down and regulate their brains and bodies. And what ways worked really well for most kids? You give them time and you give them space.

Doesn’t that hold true, then, for other children as well (including my own)?

We use time-outs in our household. I don’t view time-outs as punishment. I view them as a chance for my child (and–truthfully–myself) to calm down so we can process and problem-solve the situation. Sometimes time-outs are only 30 seconds long and sometimes they lasts for several minutes. But they help give us breathing room to calm down so we can move forward.

3) Take Ballet Lessons

Although I wasn’t raised in the dance world, I can appreciate the importance of training your body to move. And I feel one of the best ways to train your body to move is to take formal ballet lessons.

Just as with the piano lessons, I’m not necessarily interested in training my children to be professional dancers (though if that’s their passion, I will support it…see #5 below). But I can see how a solid foundation in dance education can help in the development of body awareness, body movement, and a strong core strength.

Plus…aren’t athletes taking ballet training, too?

4) Timing is Everything

There are certain critical periods when it comes to child development. By the time a child is 5, they’ve internalized most of the skills necessary to self-regulate, form healthy relationships, and become a life-long learner. By the time they are 10, they start delving deeper into the skills and activities they are most passionate about. And by the time they 15, you start praying you taught them how to make good decisions, because they start making many of their own.

In the grand scheme of things, you have very little time as a parent to guide and…well, “parent.” And my husband and I don’t have a lot of time left. So we are making a conscious effort to try and expose our children to the best we can offer them…while we are still this strongly influential in their lives.

5) Encourage their Passion

As a therapist, it’s part of my job to recognize the strengths my clients have. Yes, we may work on and “focus” primarily on their needs, but we also draw on and utilize their strengths.

Same for my children. Although they are young, we are starting to see glimmers of what they may have a special talent for. It’s my hope that we are able to foster, support, and encourage their passions, whatever they may be and however they may change over the years.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie Bolton August 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

LOVE this piece! Thank you for writing it. As a parent and music therapist myself, I can really appreciate the points you made. My husband and I have also had many, many discussions about how to best raise our daughter– and we’ve come to many of the same conclusions you mentioned above. One small difference is that we decided karate was a better fit for our daughter than dance lessons (re: #3 above). She’s so high energy and not AT ALL attracted to dance costumes, and karate provides similar body awareness/movement/self-control lessons that dance offers. Just another suggestion!

Kathy August 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’m on board with the time out thing with a slight tweak. I read an article about having kids “take a break” rather than a “time out” and decided to give it a try. It seems to really help with improving behavior and attitude in the long term rather than just correcting the immediate situation. If you’re interested, you’ll find it at — be sure to follow it up with the article on a “Positive Correction”.

JoAnn Jordan August 4, 2011 at 5:52 am

I think it is so important to nurture a child’s passions. Our daughter’s interest have changed some with time, yet it has been part of an informative journey. We elected to not require music in our house as we were both involved. So, her electing to play multiple instruments has grown from her desires.

We used 1,2,3, Magic with our daughter. When I started “timing myself out” when my buttons had been pushed, her behavior changed. Breaks are important when parenting.

Thanks for sharing your insights on parenting. It is obvious that you love and cherish your children.

Ginna Macdonald August 4, 2011 at 6:35 am

Ah, this piece brought me back to when my two were that size. My eldest daughter starts college this Fall. Despite all my best intentions, she quite piano, ballet….moved in with her boyfriend 3 weeks after turning 18, graduated high school early because she couldn’t stand the drama. Recently our chiropractor (whom we just started seeing this spring after a car accident my daughter had) remarked what a wonderful girl she is. I had to laugh and explain that yes, she was, but she wasn’t at all what I was aiming for! Enjoy these years when they are little…it is all over in the blink of an eye.

Rachel August 4, 2011 at 7:46 am

great post. Although I might change “ballet” to “dance” lessons for myself 🙂

Kimberly August 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm

@Stephanie That’s good to know–and I’m glad you found something that works! Our kids both love dance, so we’re keeping them in for now. @Kathy I’ve heard of the “take a break” concept, too, and use it as well. I will admit, though, that the phrase I use depends on the type of mood I’m in… :/ @JoAnn Thank you! I DO love and cherish my children and try hard to do as best for them as I can. Sometimes easier said than done! I haven’t heard about 1, 2, 3, Magic–do you have a link? @Ginna I think people challenge who they trust and love most…least I hope so, because that’s what I tell myself some days! 🙂 @Rachel Good point! Though we’ve decided to start with formal ballet training, thinking if they want to switch to something else later, they’ve (hopefully) got the best start possible!

Antoinette Morrison August 5, 2011 at 6:57 am

I started with those same ideals (except dance) We started piano lessons very early. I took my children out of the school they were in and moved them to another one I ended up working at . I soon found out how difficult it was to fit everything in. I found myself becoming inpatient with my children at the piano. I knew I needed the time out. I started just to play music with my kids and ended up making sure they new basics like scales, arpegios and basic 1, 4, 5 chords. My kids are now 18, 16, and 12. My kids have always been reserved, however when they play music I see my high energy 18 year old completely relaxed when he plays the drums or absorbed when he is writing guitar music. The 16 year old has a terrific ear at the bass, piano (which he only plays when he hears something he really likes) or can take up the slack on the drums if my oldest isn’t around (although he has never had a lesson on any but the piano) And my 12 year old daughter approaches things more like I did then and is very regimented in practicing her piano daily. I think the lesson is make sure your loving what your doing when it comes to your kids and those skills will last a lifetime that they enjoyed. ( we did the same with books, readig was relaxation when they were little, all three are very avid readers) Antoinette

Kimberly August 5, 2011 at 8:10 am

What a great story are lesson, Antoinette. Thank you for sharing! It will be interesting to see how my story changes as my children grow and develop into their own 🙂 ~Kimberly

Antoinette Morrison August 23, 2011 at 7:27 am

It is interesting to watch where it goes, and watch the life of it’s own once you have planted the seed! Antoinette

Kimberly August 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Me, too Antoinette 🙂

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