Sing out to reduce stress: Using songs to support transitions for young children

Take a page from the early childhood teacher’s playbook and start singing to help your child move peacefully from one activity to another and reduce stress.

One of the most effective ways to handle potentially chaotic times is through the use of song.
One of the most effective ways to handle potentially chaotic times is through the use of song.

Teachers in early childhood education classrooms know transitioning from one activity to another can be stressful and lead to behavior that is challenging for adults. They have developed many strategies to smooth transitions, from guided imagery to structured waiting activities. But, one of the most effective ways to handle these potentially chaotic times is through the use of song.

Just like adults, children get deeply engaged in their activities, whether it is building with blocks, playing house or watching television. When a parent interrupts this activity with demands to immediately stop what they are doing and start doing something else, children can become momentarily confused. They may shut out the parent’s words or react with anger and frustration.

They may simply “drag their heels” and go into slow motion. Every parent knows how aggravating it can be when we have a goal in mind and our child is effectively blocking the path to it. We have all heard “just one more minute” or “I’m not tired” enough to last us the rest of our lives! While it is stressful for us, remember that it is also stressful for children.

We need a way to reduce the stress of these moments and using singing for transitions that are difficult is a useful tactic. Songs can serve as notification that the transition is about to happen in a few minutes so that children do not have to instantly make a change. This gives them time to prepare themselves for a change, like the countdown before lift-off for astronauts. Knowing what is coming next makes life simpler for children and, therefore, their parents.

Your songs do not have to be complex or highly original and you don’t need professional vocal instruction. Basically, you sing about what you want your child to do. Is it time to leave the house and go to the early childhood center or school? Then you can sing about getting your outdoor clothes on, grabbing your backpack and going to the door. Is it time to come in for a meal? Sing about the soap, water and towels waiting in the bathroom for children to wash their hands. These songs get your child’s attention quickly and in a respectful way. They help children organize their next action in their minds while also helping them to remember what it is they need to do to be ready. Repetition helps the ideas stay in the child’s mind.

The parents in this video just put their words to tunes they already know. Here’s another example, but you can make up your own to fit your situation.

(Sung to “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”)

There is soap in the bathroom, yes there is!

There is water in the bathroom, yes there is!

Wash your hands in the bathroom.

Wash your hands in the bathroom.

Dry your hands on the towels and come to eat!

Writing and performing your own songs is probably not going to get you a Grammy nor will you be the next American Idol. But, your hectic life may just become a little less hectic. Your days will go more smoothly. Your children will seem more cooperative. Come to think of it, those are rewards in themselves. And, so if you are looking for ways to ease the stress of your day, sing out!

For more ideas about activities and articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

Michigan State University Michigan State University Close Menu button Menu and Search button Open Close