Life After NICU / My Days With James

Music and Anxiety, A Puzzling Combination

If you’ve followed along with James for any time, you know that he LOVES music. Music has had a huge impact on him right from the beginning. We sing all kinds of songs with James, from your typical toddler stuff, to oldies, The Beatles, Ramones, TSO, Bon Jovi…he loves it all. He sings much more than he talks, and the dancing, wow! He definitely has his own style.

His connection with music has provided so much comfort to him. When we spent two months away from home last fall, we brought along his iPod with all his favorites and listened every day. His face lit up to the familiar sounds of his Music Together songs. I’ve sung countless songs to him during procedures at the hospital and doctor’s office. I think it calms me as much as him. Car rides, waiting in line at the grocery store, playing in the backyard, waking up from a nap, calming before bed – all moments that have been made better with a song.

We see the developmental benefits of music first hand. James sings a lot. I love watching him play in his room as he sings. He can be completely engrossed in an activity and still singing. It’s become second nature to him. He’s learned words and phrases by singing them first, then speaking them. James can clap to the beat of a song, and counts “1-2 1-2-3” as he drums. It’s been remarkable to watch his progress.

With this amazing connection to music, it’s been truly puzzling to experience music class with him the last few weeks. James seems to have a profound sense of anxiety when it comes to class. It’s a reaction we don’t see in any other setting. He seems completely petrified, to the point of clinging to me, crying the saddest tears, and vomiting. James used to be the child least likely to ever sit during class, exploring the entire room as the other children sat and sang. Now I can’t peel him off me. I don’t understand the dramatic shift. Does it remind him of daycare? Possibly, but he’s never been left alone at class and never had anything other than a positive experience in class.

I’m so thankful for the very kind, very thoughtful instructor James has. We are trying to find ways to work through this so class will be enjoyable again. We’re going to try arriving a little late to class, so he’ll be able to hear the music he’s familiar with and likes right away. We’re also going to try class at a different location. See if I can trick him into having a ‘new’ happy experience with class. And, I’m going to do everything I can to not leave before the end of  class. Not easy for me in this type of situation. Especially tough when your child is throwing up over and over – there are other children and parents who need to get the most out of class, too.  We may end up sitting in the hallway, listening through the door, but I’ll do my best to make sure we stay til the end. I really don’t want this to become a behavior that pops up anytime he’s nervous. Thankfully, this is the only place it’s happened so far. And, with any luck, our ‘trickery’ will work and James will, once again, enjoy music class!

It breaks my heart to see him so scared. Have you had a similar experience with your toddler? I would love to know what strategies worked as you helped them through their anxiety. Suggestions? Ideas? Please share! We really want to turn this around for James and help him find his confidence again. Thank you!


3 thoughts on “Music and Anxiety, A Puzzling Combination

  1. Alison,
    It is so wonderful that James loves music. In my life before NICU Helping Hands I was a musician – classical singer to be more specific. Music is a great form of therapy and it can help with all kinds of things. I won’t go into the details here, but music was very helpful to my father who had Parkinson’s Disease. I am firm believer in the therapeutic benefits of music. I would like to suggest that if the issues with music class persist that perhaps you look into time for James to enjoy music with a music therapist – not because he needs “therapy” but because it would be a one on one music experience for him and because it is always possible that the classroom setting, all the movement and the other children is changing the experience James is having with music. A music therapist can be a wonderful person for James to have to experience music with and if there are other areas that you are interested in working on with him developmentally a music therapist can incorporate some of that as well potentially and it be a fun, wonderful experience that he enjoys with music as the background. Just a thought….

    • Thank you so much Lisa! I love learning about the ‘previous lives’ of the people we’ve met through our NICU experience. Quite an interesting group of people. 🙂 I very much like the idea of music with a music therapist. I’ve been researching that very thing. I really wonder if the class is just too much for him now. I think music is personal for him, hard to share with a group of strangers, and class is over stimulating in so many ways. Unfortunately I haven’t found a music therapist that we can afford yet. I hate that it comes down to that, but in the real world bills must be paid. I will definitely keep looking into it though. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Pingback: Here’s to New Beginnings and Petting Zoos | 22w6d

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