Music Can Navigate Kids’ Emotion Headquarters

On Friday afternoon, our family watched the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. I must ask: Did any other parent cry over Bing Bong or shed a tear when witnessing Riley’s first memory? I did.


Well, I don’t know about you, but I would love to gain access to my kids’ Emotions’ Headquarters. It would make this parenting thing a whole lot easier if we could more readily identify the emotion our children are trying to express and then in turn help them label that feeling and respond appropriately. Plus, it is always helpful to pick up on the visual clues our children give off right before a meltdown. Unfortunately, their heads don’t actually start steaming, like the character Anger. We do know that Joy often sounds like laughter!

Young Children and Emotional Intelligence

While Inside Out is obviously fictional, emotional intelligence DOES begin developing in infancy, just like the character Riley, and includes recognizing and managing feelings, self-awareness, and responding appropriately towards others. In the movie, we saw this whenever a specific emotion (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) took over the controls in Riley’s Emotions’ Headquarters.

As parents or early childhood teachers (or both!), young children often mirror our actions and reactions and the words we say in our best moments—and sometimes our not-so-best moments. They can even mimic our likes and dislikes. Eventually, as they become more self aware, children begin to express their own preferences for things, like wearing pajamas everywhere (Not a bad idea!) or eating ice cream for breakfast (Not a good idea!).

Mom and son


Music classes can support children’s growing self-awareness, which includes identifying feelings, and a parent’s unique role in it. For example, each week in a Kindermusik class, we include activities that not only encourage children’s personal choices but we actually incorporate them into the lesson. By including each child’s favorite way to say “Hello” at the beginning of class or movement idea during the “Monkey Dance,” we place value on each child’s ideas and preferences. In doing so, children learn to not only recognize and share ideas in a meaningful way but also to celebrate the differences of others. Activities like Kindermusik that incorporate children’s ideas help them learn that their thoughts, feelings, and ideas are valued.

Girl with orange shirt



Quick Tip for Using Music to Help Kids Navigate Their Emotional Headquarters

Listen to music that expresses different emotions, like joy, sadness, anger, or fear. Dance with children based on the emotion and help children label the emotion. Not only does this activity develop children’s vocabulary; it also helps them to identify—and even to manage—their own emotions.

Find a local Kindermusik class.

Contributed by Lisa Camino Rowell, a freelance writer in the Atlanta area. She freely admits that she cried while watching Inside Out. Her 9-year-old Kindermusik graduate responded with equal emotion: embarrassment. 


Musical variety is the spice of life

You’ve probably heard the old proverb: “Variety is the spice of life.” When it comes to music, musical variety is definitely the spice of life! When you expose your children to music from around the world, you expose them to different cultures, countries, ideas, and experiences, along with these developmental benefits:

Greater language proficiency
Just as you read a variety of books to expand your child’s vocabulary, exposure to a wide variety of music and sounds expands your child’s “ear vocabulary.” High quality musical recordings and real instruments help your child “fine tune” her ear to recognize and imitate the sounds that make up words and language.

Spatial awareness
When a child listens to music, her mind perceives the sound in multi-dimensional ways. The sound is loud or soft, fast or slow, it moves up and down, or left to right. Eventually, she’ll use that “awareness of space” to work with her body when she walks through the living room and tries not to hit the coffee table. Much later, this same awareness is necessary skill for learning how to get around things, jump, run, and move in zig-zag ways.

Temporal reasoning
You see this skill in action when a preschooler tells a story. He starts with his own experience and then moves to some imagined place with a princess or a superhero then goes back to something real again. Music does the same thing. It goes back and forth between established places (the chorus) and to new places that take you somewhere else (the verse). The ability to go back and forth from something established to something imagined comes from temporal reasoning, a skill used in music writing, storytelling, and problem solving.

Emotional intelligence
With exposure to a greater variety of musical styles-like jazz, folk, or classical, this increased exposure to music increases a child’s awareness, and understanding of different moods and emotions.

Cognitive skills
Research shows that music contributes to the development of a child’s ability to reason, his sense of patterning, and his memory skills.

Musical appetite
In the early years between newborn and age 7, your child is developing his musical taste buds as he learns to appreciate the finer things and to enjoy new musical tastes and textures. The wider the array of musical styles, the richer his “appetite” will be.

Try this at home… Your child is naturally musical. Hearing you sing and listening to recordings are like food for her musical appetite. Sing with child at least three times a day. Consider these song sessions musical breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (By the way, “lunch” can be interpreted loosely. Just plan the routine of singing together at a time that works for your schedule – when your child wakes up, in the car, doing dishes, at naptime, fixing supper, etc.!) Once you start, you will find that there is a song for everything. If you can’t remember what that song is, make one up!

Posted by Theresa Case whose Kindermusik program at Piano Central Studios is proudly among the top 1% of Kindermusik programs worldwide.