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Preparing for Back to School : How Music Can Help Regulate the Nervous System 

A couple of weeks ago, before my kids headed back to school, children’s book author Jess Bubbico asked if I would like to join her for a Facebook Live on using music to help our kids regulate their nervous systems as they prepared for back to school.

Jess has published a book called “Jessi Lou and the Magic of You!” about a little girl who experiences her emotions in a big way and learns through the book’s adventures how to harness the power of her emotions. 

I enjoyed chatting with Jess very much and am including the video here in this blog post. I decided to include a written post as well in case you are more of a reader than video watcher.

Science can tell us a lot about how music affects the brain and I’ll get into a little of that, but we don’t even need the science. We feel it. We know how music affects us.

When kids are heading back to school, one of the main things they struggle with is nerves and the unknown. There are concerns about fitting in, not knowing the routine, having a new teacher – always so much new, new, new! 

Music has a powerful impact on our emotions and can play a significant role in regulating them. This effect is attributed to a combination of psychological, neurological, and physiological mechanisms. 

So, how is this possible? Music can activate almost all brain regions and networks and because of this, it can help to keep a myriad of brain pathways and networks strong, including those networks that are involved in well-being, learning, cognitive function, quality of life, and happiness. In fact, there is only one other situation in which you can activate so many brain networks all at once, and that is when you participate in social activities. 

One part of the brain that is activated when listening to music is the limbic system, which is responsible for processing emotions. The brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are associated with pleasure and reward, in response to music, leading to enhanced mood and emotional regulation.

Playing music that you have consciously chosen is like turning the dial on the thermostat. You are controlling your environment.

Using music to prepare for going back to school can be a fun and effective way to help your child manage their emotions and create a positive mindset for the upcoming challenges. Here are some steps to help you use music to get ready for back to school:

1. Create a Positive Playlist: Compile a playlist of songs that make you and your child feel motivated, confident, and uplifted. You could choose music with upbeat tempos and positive lyrics that resonate with your child’s goals for the school year. I think creating a variety of playlists that align with a variety of moods and feelings is important. Some of my favourite children’s artists and playlists are: Frances England, Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, Justin Roberts, Jack Johnson, Spotify's Calm Kids Playlist, Spotify's Kindie Playlist, and Kara Kaufmann of course! 

2. Morning Rituals: Start your day on a positive note with energizing playlists, calming melodies, or motivational tracks. I love jazz and classical. My husband loves pop. My kids love anything they can dance to! What would be your family’s ideal morning playlist? Get it queued up so that Alexa plays it as you make breakfast and get ready for the day.

3. Mindful Listening: Dedicate a few minutes each day to listen to music mindfully. Have your child find a quiet space, close their eyes, and focus solely on the music. Allow the melodies and rhythms to soothe any pre-school jitters and help your child feel centered. This is like setting aside time for art or reading — letting them listen to music for a while gives them an outlet and time for processing their emotions.

4. Visualization: While listening to music, your children can visualize themselves succeeding in various aspects of school life—whether it's acing a test, making new friends, or participating in extracurricular activities. The music can enhance the emotional impact of these positive visualizations.

5. Stress Relief, Relaxation, Bedtime: Include calming music in your routine to help your kids relax and manage stress. Deep breathing exercises while listening to relaxing music can also help calm your child’s nerves and improve focus. Perhaps there is a song that relaxes your child and if they find themselves in a stressful situation they can hum that while working in a few calming breaths to bring down their stress level. Soothing music at bedtime is always helpful. In particular, choose music that is around 60-80 beats per minute. The brain will synchronize with the beat causing alpha brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are present when we are relaxed and conscious. It’s good prep for calming the body before bed!

6. Incorporate Music into Tasks: Play some of your child’s favorite music while organizing school supplies or completing other tasks to get ready for school. Music can make mundane activities more enjoyable and can make everyone feel more productive.

7. Journal with Music: Consider playing instrumental music in the background while your child is journaling – it can help with concentration and focus. I personally love listening to jazz and classical music when working. Just make sure to choose music that is calming and doesn't have distracting lyrics. Your child could journal their thoughts and feelings about returning back-to-school or the could create a back-to-school manifesto. A note on journaling – I love the journals from Big Life Journal.

8. Musical Breaks: If you notice your child getting a bit overwhelmed with back-to-school planning or talk, take a little break to listen to music that energizes them. Dance around or just move to the music to refresh their mind and boost their mood.

9. Express Yourself: If your child plays a musical instrument or enjoys singing, have them use their musical talents to express their feelings about going back to school. Writing a song or creating music can be a creative outlet for emotions.

10. Share with Friends: Have your child share positive playlists with friends who might also be feeling nervous about going back to school. Music can be a great conversation starter and a way to bond over shared interests. It also offers a social component that brings people together, creating empathy and a sense of belonging. Music can strengthen family bonds and kids and teenagers form social closeness through music. This is actually called identity fusion. And, it's why I created my music the way that I did, so that caregivers and kids can enjoy it together!

11. Playlist for Reflection: Create a playlist that encourages self-reflection. Include songs that will remind your child of their achievements, strengths, and growth. Listening to this playlist can boost their self-confidence and remind them of their capabilities.

Remember that our musical preferences are unique to each of us, so choose songs and genres that resonate with you and your child’s emotions and goals. Music can be a powerful tool to help your child transition back to school with confidence and enthusiasm, and I am certain these tips will help your whole family with not only back-to-school jitters but in so many day-to-day situations! 


Connecting with Kids Through Music 

We all know the instant mood boost we get when a favourite tune comes on, we turn it up and start singing it out loud. 

And, when we get a chance to bring this mood boost to our whole family, it’s an awesome chance for connection. Endless amounts of studies show us how wired we are to respond to music and how much of a positive impact music can have on us. As mentioned on Berkeley's Greater Good blog “Listening to music and singing together has been shown in several studies to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connection.” How Music Bonds Us Together, Jill Suttie

My family finds lots of joy through music in our day to day and I want to share some ideas with you that help us create closeness and connection.

First up, 1. Family Dance Parties. This tradition started when my two oldest boys were one and three. I would start dinner and then while we waited for it to cook — and as we waited for Dad to come home from work — we would shake off our anticipation by tossing on a playlist and dancing around the kitchen together. The time would pass so quickly, the three of us forgetting about our hunger and the wait for Dad to arrive. The tradition has stuck and while we don’t always have everyone dancing, for the most part, when we get the music going, excitement starts and we get into a good groove while dinner cooks. And, because we want a little calm and focus at the dinner table (what's calm and focus at the dinner table? 🤪) here's an idea I picked up from Dr. Becky’s Good Inside – mellow out before dinner with a little meditation. Stretch out together on the floor or do a little breathing excercise. It makes for the perfect wind down after a very fun dance party. And now you've connected through music, created closeness with your shared experience and you're ready to keep the connection and closeness going as you share your meal together. 

2. Sing Talk: Trust me when I say you do not need any musical talent to be singing through your day with your kids. I make up songs about what we are doing constantly and loads of time I’m off-key and wouldn’t put what I have written on a record. 😉 I’ll pull this out when I am getting a smile out of my eight and six year-olds and it’s great for toddlers and babies to hear music when they are doing daily activities — their ears perk right up and they tend to pay more attention. Also, any time something is put into a sing-song form, it instantly diffuses any stress I might be feeling! So, Sing Talk is good for parents and kids. 😊 It doesn’t matter that you don’t want your banana, let’s stop throwing pieces of it at the friiiiidge! Try singing that — changes everything! 😀 

3. Family Concert: My kids all know how to turn on the demo songs on my keyboard and it takes just one beat before they all rush into the room to start running around and going wild. I keep a basket of percussion instruments beside my keyboard so that they can all grab something and start jamming. Making rhythms and songs together and playing off of each other is such a fun bonding experience. And, whenever I am playing you can bet the kids are in the room adding their own sparkle to my songs. I highly recommend having a basket of percussion instruments around and maybe a little djembe, and if you’d like to mimic the songs from the keyboard to have something to guide your chaotic group playing session, just throw on some upbeat instrumental songs from a record, CD or wherever you stream music. Yes, it’s loud. But, go for it when you can. Lose yourself in it and I promise you will all have so much fun together. (Until someone hits someone else with a drumstick, but, you know, until then. 😏)

Happy music making and connecting through music! 🎶