Music therapy: a healing space for kids
The Salvation Army is now delivering the Sing&Grow program, helping children heal after trauma by providing a safe space for them to process and express their emotions.
When a parent has no choice but to escape a violent partner, finding safe accommodation is the first step, accessing supports and counselling to assist in recovery is the next. But what about their children who have been exposed to and/or experienced violence themselves? Processing such traumatic events is challenging enough for an adult, for those still growing and learning about the world, making sense of what has happened takes a special approach.
Sing&Grow is a national, evidence-based music therapy program providing services for young children and their families that focusses on strengthening family relationships, building capacity in parents to support their children’s development, and supporting children’s transition to school.
“When children experience early loss, separation, abuse or neglect, their brain development is affected in significant ways. They often experience what is known as ‘Developmental Trauma’, which means their development has gone off track and they cannot behave, feel, relate and learn like other children their age,” says Erin Denny from The Salvation Army’s Samaritan Women and Children’s service.
“Developmental trauma can be repaired. Early intervention programs like Sing&Grow, Art therapy and play therapy have all been proven to assist.”
Making an impact
Specialised children’s programs like Sing&Grow are incredibly important in meeting the needs of children impacted by family and domestic violence (FDV). The developmental trauma too often acquired through these negative experiences may affect a child’s brain development, attachment style and ability to self-regulate.
“These programs support the children with activities that can help rebuild feelings of safety and stabilisation,” says Erin.
“Through creativity and play we can meet each child at their developmental stage and help repair the impacts of early trauma. It is of vital importance that children have this type of space to heal. Early intervention can help in the prevention of long-term impacts of FDV.”
Music therapy provides an alternative to traditional talk therapies and provides young children a playful, non-threatening environment in which to develop healthy emotional skills, explore feelings and develop coping strategies in a creative way. Music therapists work with children experiencing a variety of mental health challenges, a history of trauma or abuse, and those who are grieving or isolated.
Play with purpose
To an onlooker, Sing&Grow sessions may appear like any early-childhood music session, but the selection of songs and activities are serving a deeper purpose.
“Children are drawn towards songs and games that help them act out, explore, and then manage their feelings. These often include things they are afraid of, or rules that they don’t fully understand. Musical games are a healthy way for children to explore concepts of fear and safety, right and wrong, and cause and effect,” Erin explains.
Many early childhood songs provide opportunities to explore emotions and practice regulating those feelings. Expectation and release are key components in most music. Using both musical elements and lyrics, songs like “This Little Piggy,” “All the Little Fishies,” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” build up suspense and then practice releasing that tension (POP! Goes the weasel!).
“These types of songs help children and parents explore the balance between what is exciting and fun, and what is scary or overwhelming. Other songs and musical games explore waiting, switching between fast and slow, or require careful listening. All of these are enjoyable opportunities for children to practice self-regulation skills.”
Through participation, connection, and safe and positive interactions, Sing&Grow is working to address the harmful impacts of childhood trauma early by instilling healthy coping and self-regulation skills, decreasing stress and anxiety and improving self-esteem – starting children who have been through so much on a path of healing.