Hygge

In the depths of winter Scandinavia only has approximately 3-6 hours of daylight each day. The sun peeks up above the southern horizon, giving them a twilight-like light for a few hours, before dipping down again. This may sound strange and even terrible to those of us who live a tad closer to the equator. Long winter days can lead to seasonal depression, especially once the sparkle of the holidays is over.

This winter, of course, will be harder than usual. It will be the long Covid night before the dawn of vaccine distribution. How will we manage without our usual slew of social engagements, concerts, and parties? Perhaps we can take a page out of Denmark’s book.

Enter hygge.

hyg·ge:
/ˈh(y)o͞oɡə,ˈho͝oɡə/
noun
a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).

Hygge is more a lifestyle philosophy than anything else. It is the idea of leaning into any activities that create contentment and coziness. What things can bring you that feeling? A warm cup of your favorite beverage as you read a novel? A bath by candlelight? Your favorite handicraft as your kids play in a room as far away from you as the four walls of your house will allow?

What about music? Ahhhh, music is always there for us. It’s there for us in moments of celebration, in moments of sorrow, in moments of worship, and on and on. We encourage you to help heal your heart by indulging this winter in the music you love. Perhaps you love opera (we do!) and you can have your Level 5 child teach you about The Magic Flute (they learned about it last week!). Or you can join the Metropolitan Opera’s weekly stream. Perhaps you love James Taylor and listen to him on vinyl. Perhaps you like to stream Top 40 over your smart speaker at home. Or maybe you like to belt along to your favorite Broadway soundtrack.

Don’t forget the needs of your little ones to feel a little hygge too. Perhaps they could color while you play their favorite Kindermusik playlist over the app on your phone. Have the Carpenter’s Christmas album playing softly as you make cookies together. Or you could snuggle up together and watch a video field trip on your Kindermusik online account.

Lean in to those little, often simple, moments when you can find pleasure in simple daily tasks. And always add music and stir. There’s rarely a time when some quality music can’t enhance a moment.

The Skill of Choices

Did you know that your JOY Team has been training in Conscious Discipline over the last year and are continuing to implement its practices into our classes? We have seen incredible changes in the behavior of our students and in our skills as educators. We want to pass on what we have learned to YOU.

This month’s post is regarding Conscious Discipline’s Skill of Choices.

When your child is starting to lose it just a little, and you can see their emotional and mental state slipping, employ the strategy of Two Positive Choices.

You see, when a person has some choice and autonomy, they feel in control. They feel safe. Their executive functioning remains intact. Many children start to exhibit negative behaviors not because they are bad kids, but because they are communicating that they have a need. And very often that need is for some control over their own lives. Even little children need control. So feed them a little power by giving them two positive choices.

You might see your Kindermusik educator use this in class. It might be something like responding to a child playing their instrument out of turn with “Sammy, do you want to put your drum in rest position, or put it back in your music tote?” Or perhaps when it’s time to put finger puppets away “Do you want to put the squirrel in the instrument tote, or give it to your grown up to put away?”

This is a fantastic tool to use at home and in your daily parenting.

This could look like “Do you want to clean up your toys by yourself or do you want me to help you clean up your toys?” Or perhaps “Do you want to brush your teeth before you put on pajamas, or do you want to put on your pajamas first?”

Both of these examples are structuring a choice that you, as the grown-up, can live with. Both of them will get the expected behavior done. But it’s giving the child a choice, some control, some power. And that feeling of power will help them feel good about themselves and promote cooperation.

Two positive choices are necessary because you don’t want the options to feel coercive. “You can put on your shoes now or you can miss Kindermusik today!” is not structuring the situation to enable your child to choose success. It’s punitive and coercive. Instead, try “Do you want to put your shoes on now, or do you want me to put them on for you in the car?”

“Do you want to eat your dinner or go to bed hungry?” is a classic example of a coercive choice. That’s not true choice. Instead, say “Do you want to eat your dinner, or put your plate in the dishwasher?” Same results, but less threatening and more empowering.

So when you see those facial expressions or body language start to show in your little one that signal “danger ahead”, stay composed. Offer them two positive choices. Give them the time and space they need to make the decision. And support them in the execution of their decision. Watch their emotional state rise back up.

Try it at home and let us know how it goes. We would love to hear how this tool strengthens your parenting skills.

 

Healthy Helps in Tough Times

It’s that time of year when our schedules and routines are being renegotiated and shuffled around again. It’s exciting to anticipate back to school, back to Kindermusik, and transitions in our daily lives.

But given the current state of the world, it’s also stressful! Planning the upcoming months under our present circumstances is a new challenge we haven’t met before. So as you adjust your routines and expectations, here are some ideas to build into your daily habits for keeping it healthy and keeping it happy.

1. Follow the Rhythm

Normally you hear advice about establishing a schedule. And yes, schedules can lead to routines that structure your day. If you have to be to a certain place at a certain time, schedules are essential. But if you’re now homeschooling, or your kids aren’t yet of school age, try following a rhythm as opposed to a schedule.

Our bodies have natural rhythms. So do our families! Your weekend rhythm might be different than your weekday rhythm. Your family rhythm might fluctuate depending on what configuration of caregivers are in the home, and how that configuration changes throughout the week and month.

Just as you listen to the beat of a song, and match your body’s movements to its rhythm, match your day’s tasks to the rhythm of your family. Follow the ebbs and flows of energy and tiredness, of alertness and sluggishness. Mold your daily activities around that rhythm.

2. Take a Walk

Studies show that getting outside is good for our mental health as well as our physical health. Maybe you’re not comfortable letting your kids play on the public playground at the park right now, but a walk is always a good idea. Send them on a visual scavenger hunt where they have to look for cracks in the sidewalk, a certain colored front door, unique yard art, ant colonies, etc.

Have them be sound detectives and go on a listening walk. Have them practice active listening so they can tell you what they heard. Birds chirping? Someone mowing their lawn? A truck driving by? A dog barking? Hummingbird wings? What else can you and your children hear?

3. Dance it Out

Joyful movement releases endorphins and decreases stress hormones. Who doesn’t want that? Especially nowadays! Your children are so perceptive that they will echo whatever energy you are putting out into your home. Stressed with distance working or learning? Your kids feel it too. One of the quickest and most sure-fire ways to break up the stress pattern and hit the reset button is to get up and move. Put on your favorite playlist or open the Kindermusik app and find a favorite tune from class, then invite your child to dance with you. You will BOTH feel INSTANTLY better.

4. Color and Crafts

Remember those Kindermusik online materials you have access to? Dust off an old unit you haven’t experienced in a while and print off a coloring sheet or craft page. There are so many ideas there for simple, quick, and easy activities you can do together at home. Or just pull out an old coloring book and some colored pencils. Let your child color outside the lines and use nontraditional colors for each element of the picture. As you color together, those feel-good hormones will flow.

5. Bring Back Family Dinner

It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It doesn’t have to take lots of ingredients or time. The simple task of teaching your child to set the table while you pull dinner out of the oven teaches them teamwork and responsibility. And then as you sit together at a table at the end of the day, it brings structure to the day, and kicks off the evening routine as you prepare for bed.

You could even put on some dinner music to set the mood, each night rotating which member of the family gets to choose the genre or playlist.

6. Set Quiet Hours

Every caretaker needs a break, some downtime, and some self-care. Is your little one too old fo nap time? Mandatory quiet time in their room is a gift to your child and to yourself. Put them to bed 30 minutes earlier. Require an hour of solitude in their room after lunch. This may be an extremely challenging one to implement, but it will reap rewards once your child learns to entertain themselves quietly for a while. Maybe they will read a book, look at pictures, color, do puzzles, play with toys, and just find ways to keep themselves to themselves. It’s a learned skill! And it gives you a few minutes to slip in a quick mindfulness meditation or cup of coffee. Put your own oxygen mask on first, grownups.

8. Give Yourself Grace

We are living in unprecedented times. It’s been a century since the last pandemic affected us this much. And we’ve never had to parent during a pandemic during the digital age before. Online learning, remote working, still trying to meet our regular responsibilities. Everyone’s cortisol levels are high right now. So give yourself some grace. You are doing a fantastic job. You’re showing up each day and giving your child what they need. You may not be perfect, you may not meet all their needs all the time, but you are doing amazingly. You are enough. Reconnect to your breath, and give yourself some grace. Carry on, Hearties.

Survival of the Nurtured

“We are not the survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured.” ~Louis Cozolino

Did you just get chills? Read that again:

“We are not survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured.”

When a quote speaks such a truth that clears away the mental chatter and resonates right down in your bones, you know you need to stop and sit with that for a while.

The author of that quote, Louis Cozolino, is an attachment scientist and professor of psychology at Pepperdine University. He says “Those who are nurtured best, survive best. . . . The brain is a social organ, it evolves to connect with other brains. When others feel something, we do too.” Hello mirror neurons!

Isn’t that interesting, that we humans are wirelessly connected to each other? That connection is the foundation of empathy and compassion.

When we nurture children and adults, we ensure their survival. It’s the compassion that bonds us in tribes that allows for our survival as a species. But being nurtured doesn’t just promote our survival, it promotes our THRIVING. It all comes back to . . . CONNECTION.

That’s what we are ALL ABOUT here at Song of the Heart Studios. Our goal is to forge connections between you and your child, between your child and their educator, and between children within a class.

Music has been used throughout human history as a tool for forging social bonds. Those social bonds make someone feel NURTURED. And when someone is nurtured, their overall growth and development is enhanced. When a person is nurtured, they can learn. When a person is nurtured, that allows neuralplasticity to literally rewire the brain, heal from trauma, and create new and healthy thinking patterns and problem solving skills.

This is the foundation of our classes. This is why we engage in I Love You Rituals. This is why we encourage partnering with your child during class. This is why we provide Kindermusik Online materials for you to take the musical learning with you, and give you another tool in your parenting toolbelt to enhance the nurturing you do at home.

Enrolling your children in Kindermusik classes is a slice of evidence that YOU are invested in your child’s development and well-being. It is evidence that YOU are nurturing them; when they are nurtured and connected to you, you BOTH will thrive. We are honored to be a part of your family’s journey of development and connection. We hope that when you engage in our classes that YOU feel nurtured, and that your child’s eyes will shine and your hearts will flourish!

Be a S.T.A.R!

“Be a star!” at Kindermusik means a very different thing than if you heard that phrase at a dance studio, or even a different type of music studio. Elsewhere that phrase might bring up imagery of stages, lights, sequins, practiced smiles, and scripted choreography.

Here at Kindermusik, we focus on process based curricula, rather than performance based rehearsals. Every moment in a Kindermusik class is carefully planned to promote optimal age-appropriate development. Focusing on process rather than performance allows your children the time, space, and safety necessary to learn through exploration. This promotes cognitive development, social development, fine and gross motor development, and emotional development. We’re about the WHOLE child, not just the cute part that looks adorable on a stage. Joyful music exploration is the vehicle whereby we promote growth, rather than perfect performances being our goal.

So at Kindermusik, when we talk about being a STAR, we’re not talking about being a great performer. We’re talking about breathing. Breathing is such a fundamental part of being human, we do it without thinking. However, in times of stress our breathing becomes shallow and our brains don’t get the oxygen they need to function in the executive problem-solving state. In those moments when our brains are in flight-or-flight mode, we need a tool to bring our brains back up to the executive functioning level.

Enter breathing. Balloon arms anyone? Or perhaps some S.T.A.R. breathing? Studies show it takes about THREE deep, slow breaths to calm the nervous system and bring the brain out of fight-or-flight and return to a state of problem solving calm and learning readiness.

S. – Stop
T. – Take a breath
A. – and
R. – Relax

S.T.A.R. breathing is a technique you can use as an adult when work and parenting overwhelms you. It’s a technique you can teach your teens and tweens to employ when their lives get to be too much. It’s a process that elementary aged children and preschoolers can do when they need help with emotional regulation. And you can even hold your screaming infant to your chest and breathe deeply, helping them feel your slowing breath, to help them to slow and deepen their own breathing.

Calm breathing can help your child feel safe. Empathetic breathing between you and your child will remind them they are loved. Only when they feel safe and loved can they return to learning, focusing, cooperating, and functioning.

How’s your S.T.A.R. practice going at home?

Mirror Neurons: Downloading Calm

Imagine this: you are sitting in a circle with a group of friends, family, or colleagues. One person is speaking, and everyone else is watching and listening. The speaker is caught mid-sentence with a yawn. Everyone observers the speaker yawning. Soon everyone else in the room is yawning, regardless of whether they felt tired before or not.

It’s a familiar experience. One you may or may not have been conscious of experiencing. And it’s a phenomenon that is the result of something called mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons are neurons that fire both when a person acts AND when a person observes the same action performed by someone else. The neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other person, as though they were acting themselves.

Aside from just being an interesting factoid, this is great news for parents and caregivers. You can utilize your child’s mirror neurons as a tool to help you cope with difficult behaviors and teach them emotional regulation. If you can approach your child in a moment of difficulty, with calm on your face and a relaxed demeanor, you have the power to help that child calm themselves and relax.

Daniel Stern, a prominent psychologist, has said “Mirror neurons ensure that the moment someone sees an emotion on your face, they will at once sense that same feeling within themselves.”

That means you have the POWER to affect your child’s mood and behavior. If you are angry and show it, that will signal to your child to also be angry. But if you can remember that even if your child has triggered your anger and frustration, you are an adult with emotional regulation skills and can calm yourself. If you can take a calming breath and approach them with empathy, that will signal to your child to breathe and relax. You just diffused a very tense moment in your relationship with your child, and cut the stress in half.

Dr. Becky Bailey, our discipline guru, teaches what this looks like:

Let’s say that your child is upset and throwing a tantrum. You reach for them out of a desire to comfort them, but they angrily pull their arm away from you and turn their back on you. They’re not looking at you, so you can’t use their mirror neurons to download calm into them. How do you get them to look at you?

In that moment you say “Your arm went like this . . .” and mimic their motion. Or “Your face just went like this . . .” and copy their facial expression. They will wonder what you’re doing and will look back at you to see what you’re doing with your arm or face.

In that brief second when they look at you, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Their mirror neurons will kick in and they will be tricked into taking a deep breath as well. That will literally download calm into their brain. You still have to deal with the difficult situation at hand, but you are calm and you can handle it. And now your child is calmer, and they can learn from the self-regulation skills you are modeling for them.

So when your child is pushing your buttons and you feel yourself ill-equipped to manage a difficult situation, take your power back. Remember that no one can make you upset without your permission – even a screaming toddler. Take a deep breath to calm yourself. Use those mirror neurons to teach your child to calm themselves. Keep breathing. You can handle this.

Parents are Partners

One of the most important aspects of the Kindermusik experience is the opportunity we provide you to truly partner with your child. It is absolutely critical that you spend the time you have together in class each week to be fully present with them. Developing a habit of connecting with them will pay huge dividends in your relationship at home, and what better place to make that time investment than at Song of the Heart Studios where we prime their brains and bodies for learning and connection?

Dr. Becky Bailey of Conscious Discipline teaches us that we must focus on our inner state before we can control our behavior. The same is true for children. They must be in an inner state of calm and security before they can learn, comply, or make sense of the world around them. The ability to self-regulate and manage our emotions and inner state requires TWO people. For adults, those two people are YOU and YOU. Your INNER VOICE is what regulates your INNER STATE.

Children have no inner voice to help them self-regulate. And yet two decades of research has shown that self-regulation is more critical to a child’s future happiness and success than early academic achievement. A child’s ability to self-regulate is more important than early reading, writing, or math skills. The average child does not develop inner-speech until around 6 years of age. Some girls may develop it as early as 4, and some boys may delay until 9!

So how can children manage their emotions and self-regulate if they have no inner-voice?

They can’t.

That’s why they need YOU. Remember that it takes TWO to self-regulate? THIS is why we partner with our children. This is why we focus on connection so much. This is why children crave and need your attention. It is through your guidance and example that they can learn to calm their inner state and to manage their emotions.

Every Kindermusik lesson has a moment or many for you to connect with your child. Our Foundations through Level 2 classes are non-stop parent-child partner joy-fests. Our Level 3-5 classes are focused on more musical training and less parent partnering, but even in those classes you are given a few moments at the end to join in with your child and partner with them. Make the most of our structured sharing time! And remember that you always have access to the at-home materials online that you can utilize to partner with your child.

Remember you are your child’s PARTNER as well as their parent. Partner up in class. Partner up at home. Partner with them whenever they need help navigating their overwhelming emotions. Use those I Love You Rituals, or a favorite fingerplay or lap bounce from Kindermusik, or your own special family brand rituals. And as always, remember that connection builds cooperation and promotes JOY.

Connection: The Pathway to Cooperation

We’re often terribly frustrated when we try to get our children to cooperate. Many of us get so fed up with our inability to control our kids that we give up. We just pick up the toys or clear the table ourselves, but resentment builds over time, creating distance between ourselves and our children. We feel inadequate.

Our lack of confidence makes our children’s world feel shakier.

Others of us get so triggered by lack of cooperation that we might yell, shame, blame, or punish until the deed is done by force. Here, too, we feel badly. Anger and frustration reign. Our children can’t help but internalize the message that they are not good enough, which hinders their ability to learn and make friends.

There’s another way.

In seeking cooperation, we must think of our children as partners in a relationship. Paying attention to connection before asking a child to cooperate is like greeting a neighbor and chatting a bit before mentioning that the fence between your yards needs repair. You honor the relationship, since it is the foundation for any positive action to follow.

Bring to mind the familiar scenario of telling your child to hurry up and get on their shoes so you won’t be late for an event. Your request is met with silence, as your child ignores your imploring and continues to play with their toys. You beg. You cajole. You bribe. Your child continues to defy you and picks up a piece of lint on the floor as if it is the most important thing in the world. Eventually, you find yourself yelling and they are crying and you are delayed and inevitably you are late once more.

Next time, try this: instead of begging, bribing, or threatening to take away a privilege, try connecting with them. Get down on the floor with them, and engage in play. It only takes a moment to bond and remind your child of your relationship. Once the feel seen and loved and valued, then inform them it’s time to leave and to get their shoes on.

Set yourself up for success by connecting first. When children feel connected to their parents and truly seen, cooperation comes naturally. Rather than preparing for a showdown with an uncooperative child, remember Conscious Discipline’s I Love You Ritual components: eye contact, intentional touch, presence, and playfulness.

We parents often feel urgent about getting things done right now, a feeling that tends to arise when we feel burdened and alone. We want to feel better, so we try to get the kids to sit down to lunch now, or get the bedroom cleaned up now, or get them piled into the car now. And there are times to force cooperation immediately. When your child is darting out onto a busy street, you’ve got to scoop him up right away, no matter how insulted he may feel! But otherwise, to win cooperation, you need to allow a bit of time for connection between the two of you.

This is what Kindermusik is all about. One of the primary functions of a Kindermusik class is to provide a culture that fosters a climate of connection between you and your child. We give you the tools. We give you the rituals. You partner with your child and forge the bond in class. Then it is up to you to take those tools home and use them. So when you’re feeling frustrated and burdened with parenting, remember that Joy Juice and how you get it. Both you and your child will feel closer, happier, less stressed, and more cooperative. You are a team! Partner with your child in play, and watch their cooperation naturally follow.

Joy Juice!

Have you started using I Love You Rituals at home yet? Or perhaps come up with your own? The reason we like to incorporate I Love You Rituals in class and encourage you to use them regularly at home is that doing so gives you and your child a shot of JOY JUICE.

What is Joy Juice? It is a hormonal cocktail that your body releases and bathes your brain in when you engage in a moment of connection with a loved one. It is comprised of dopamine, endorphins, and other natural hormones. It can have an equivalent effect on a child’s brain as a dose of Ritalin. But completely natural! And you have access to it ANY TIME YOU WANT.

Dr. Becky Baily of Conscious Discipline teaches “Joy Juice is a combination of positive brain chemicals that create joyful feelings literally wiring the brain for impulse control and willingness.”

Looking to add more joy to your family’s life and help transform challenging behavior? Add some Joy Juice!

The key elements to accessing your and your child’s body’s Joy Juice production and distribution facility are:

  1. Eye contact: Getting down on your child’s level, looking them in the eye, and using their name, is essential to building the connection needed for the release of these hormones.
  2. Touch: Placing your hand on your child’s shoulder or head, a gentle tickle, or a hug, signals to the child that they are safe. It readies them for connection and cooperation.
  3. Presence: Being fully present in the moment and with your child indicates empathy and comfort. It’s a way of signaling to them that they matter to you and that you are a safe place for them.
  4. Playfulness: A playful situation gives the brain a little break and primes it for more learning. A playful game can put us in a state called “relaxed alertness” which is optimal for learning and readiness.

 

The connections we build with others on the outside builds neural connections on the inside and give us this Joy Juice.

So when you’re in a challenging moment with your child, get down on their level, place your hand on their shoulder, use their name and say “Find my eyes.” Then be present and playful with them. It only takes a moment to connect, prime the brain, and promote connection and cooperation.

Here’s to more JOY!

Rituals vs Routines

We are now five weeks into the new Kindermusik season (can you believe it?) and by now you and your child should be familiar with the routines and rituals of our studio. These routines and rituals have a variety of intentional purposes.

The words routine and ritual are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are important differences.

Our Hello and Goodbye routines that start and end each class provide a structure of stability for your children. This structure signals to them that it is time to begin class and helps them with the transitions into and out of class. Having a routine built into the class gives children a sense of security and a sense of comfort. It also helps them regulate their behavior and manage their expectations.

We’re sure you have routines in your family life, certain patterns of behavior that help you or your child move from one task to another throughout the day. The lack of these routines is why summer and the holiday season is at first freeing, but ultimately too much of a good thing. There’s always a bit of a sigh of a relief when the vacation is over and the family returns to the normalcy and stability of routine.

But routines are different from rituals, which also have a beneficial and intentional purpose. A ritual is a specific action or set of actions that help us regulate our emotions, build relationships, and mark significant events or transitions in our lives. A wedding is a ritual. A bar mitzvah is a ritual. A christening. But so is meditation, prayer, yoga practice, etc.

Conscious Discipline teaches about I Love You Rituals, which we incorporate into many of our classes. The purpose of these rituals is to build CONNECTION between you and your child, because research has shown that CONNECTION builds COOPERATION. Again, it’s a set of discrete actions that are done in sequence that form the basis for interpersonal bonding.

It’s no different than the timeless classic nursery rhyme “this little piggy went to market” that you lovingly recite when you have your baby on the changing table. It is a moment where you repeat a set of actions with the intention of regulating your emotions, or building a bond, or marking an event. Our handstamp ritual at the end of class is another example; it provides a moment when your educator can bond one-on-one with your little one with a little eye contact, a little touch, a little smile, and a goodbye.

Routines and rituals can definitely have overlap, but they are different things with different purposes. BOTH are necessary for children to form attachments, build connection, feel security, so that they can GROW and develop into their best self.

What routines and rituals do you have in your family? Do you incorporate any you have learned at Kindermusik? If not, try one at home that your educator has taught you. And then let them know how it went!