Last year on holiday, my middle child, then the youngest, awoke frightened in the middle of an inky, dark hot night. Even the ocean was painfully still, barely audible though it was seemingly so close to our windows. The air didn't move at all. It hung thick and heavy and stale over all of us. I was heavily pregnant at the time.
And then I heard him, my little one - not just a cry, but a long doleful wail, the kind that makes you instantly start, the kind that immediately brings forth panic to your throat, the urge to run to them. Unsettled, unsure of his new surroundings, my poor hot little boy howled like a lost lion cub. My husband went to him and scooped him up, brought him to our room, laid him in our bed. And so he lay there, soft limbs clammy and kicking, his golden sugar-spun hair sweaty, crying still. I remember opening the windows, the ocean lolling somewhere in the vast dark, but it made no difference.
After what felt like hours, though I'm sure now it wasn't so long, I scrambled for my phone. I scrolled, stopping and starting badly sung children's songs which didn't help the situation at all, but then stopped at what sounded like gentle soft whispering, which turned into an oddly beautiful version of Twinkle Twinkle.
His howls faded to whimpers, and finally, finally, he rolled over, curled into me and slept. We ended up doing this every night for a long time after, long after we returned home. He'd simply ask for his lullabies and then he'd finally - finally fall asleep.
I never fully appreciated just how big of an effect the right kind of music could have on a child's moods until last year. It's funny how this happens with parenting - we never consider that our children are so much like us, even though, well, of course they are. We never consider that they might need just what we need. That a calm surrounding for them is as beneficial for their state of mind as it is for us. A child can be as uplifted by music as we can be. Children can be soothed by it, moved by it. Sometimes, the wrong kind of music can stress them out too (when you're only two, you really don't need to hear dance music at soft play). But of course all of this makes sense - doesn't the tone of music, the poetry of lyrics effect all of us?
Maybe it's just the distraction, maybe the melody - but since that moment on holiday, I will now often think of using music in stressful moments in a way that I hadn't before. Music continues to calm all of my children down at those times when it doesn't matter what I say. They are receptive to it, in tune with it. We turn to music to calm down before bed, when energies are a little too high, voices a little too argumentative, cheeks a little too frantic and red. In the car, those long journeys in the evening when they're supposed to be asleep but are too excited, I pop any one of these singers named below on and they'll fall deeply asleep within minutes.
I use the same songs for my littlest now too. Mostly as an excuse to hold him close, feel his warm head with his eiderdown hair nestle into my neck, soft chubby fingers reaching for my face. Anything to make those moments last longer.
The best calming music for children
Elizabeth Mitchell sings beautiful folk songs for children. Some are uplifting and fun without being headache-inducing in the slightest (you'll find yourself tapping along to Hey Bo Diddley), others are tinged with romance, poetry and love and perfectly soothing for calm down time and bed time routines (If You Listen is especially gorgeous).
Renee & Jeremy
A soulful duo with enchanting voices. A Little Love is full of gorgeous cover versions (Shiny Happy People, You're My Best Friend, Yellow) that are all a little bit slower and more soothing than the originals while the It's a Big World album is bewitching, with sweet vocals and softly strumming guitars. Night Mantra is a favourite for unwinding before bedtime with baby massage for the littlest one. Beautiful, poetic alternatives to traditional lullabies.
I'm old enough to know all the words to Stay - a song I fell in love with as a thirteen-year-old. Lisa Loeb's voice is still like honey and her children's songs are just charming (her most recent album, Feel What U Feel, won a Grammy for Best Children's Album earlier this year). We especially love Catch the Moon and Butterfly.
Lots of you will know Raffi, the much loved and acclaimed Canadian children's folk songwriter with charmingly comedic lyrics. We like a little Raffi on during playtime, and while most of his songs and instantly recognisable and cause no end of giggles (Banana Phone), a few are also really soothing. Thanks A Lot is a really magical slow and happy ode to being grateful, perfect for winding down at the end of a busy-in-a-good-way-day. Take a Breath is a sweet song to remind children to slow down and take a couple of deep breaths when things feel too much - Raffi wrote it specifically to help children cope with stress and anxiety.
Lullaby - The Rainbow Collection
That beautiful version of Twinkle Twinkle that my little boy finally fell asleep to on holiday? That was by The Rainbow Collection. It's actually sung by Sophie Barker, the singer with Zero 7. She makes Baa Baa Black Sheep and Row Your Boat somehow beautiful - her gorgeous soothing voice is why The Lullaby Collection appeals to grown-ups as much as it does to babies. Play it on repeat, and it's guaranteed to soothe any child (and their grown up) to sleep.
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