Music Therapy and Attachment Theory

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Welcome back to Music Therapy 101! Last week saw us Perthians in a 5 day lockdown, so I tried to use my down time to try and get ahead on the blog. In this post, I'm continuing my series of Music Therapy through the Lifespan and this post is all about how music therapy can be used in parent-toddler relationships to create a strong attachment between them, as well as helping to reach developmental milestones in the toddler's development.

This information in this post will come directly from my experience in observing a music therapy program as part of my placement experience through uni, but I will also try to link some helpful articles below if you want to read more up on this subject. I will not be mentioning any names of programs or therapists, in order to respect privacy.

The placement I observed focused on the attachment that forms between parents and their young children. Attachment theory was first developed by a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst by the name of John Bowlby. Simply put, attachment is the bond between parents and children that causes the child to go to their parent to fulfil their needs, such as food, water, shelter etc. It also causes parents to want to remain with their children and be their caregiver. It has been said that this attachment can pave the way for the rest of the child's life and relationships, however this is just a theory. Even if children have a certain attachment style in their infancy, it doesn't necessarily dictate how their future relationships will go, as the events of life in between infancy and adulthood are hugely impactful on the way people interact with others. Bowlby researched the ways in which toddlers and younger infants interacted with and reacted to their parents in certain situations and found there were a few different types of attachment styles.

The first attachment style is the secure attachment. In this situation, the child feels safe in the company of their parent, and knows that their parent will always be there when they need them. This child feels secure enough to be able to go and explore the world around them and venture away from their parent, with the knowledge that when they need them, their parent will be right there. This child will always go to their parent when in need of comfort, say if they are hurt or hungry. This style of attachment is seen as the most desirable and in general seems to lead to confident and well adjusted adults.

The second attachment style is the insecure ambivalent style. This child tends to be wary of strangers, and very upset when their parent leaves. However, the child also doesn't tend to be comforted by the return of their parents. This type of attachment tends to lead to adults who have trouble trusting in relationships and who feel wary of becoming close with others.

Lastly, there is the insecure avoidant attachment style. This child tends to avoid their parent and shows little or no interest in their parent when they are around. This child shows no preference to their parent over other adults and don't seek out their parent for comfort. This attachment style can lead to adults who are unable to share their feelings easily, who have trouble with intimacy and who invest very little in their relationships.

The first five years of a child's life are important for many developmental reasons, but also in the area of attachment. It 's been shown that the first five years are hugely important for creating secure attachments between the parent and child. If attachments do not form in this time period, it can cause negative effects on the child's mental wellbeing. Alternatively, secure attachments allow children to grow up with a healthy view of self and a more positive outlook on life, as well as easier social interactions.

So where does music therapy come in? There are a large number of music therapy programs worldwide that focus solely on forming secure attachments between parents and children. Music therapy programs in this area allow parents to spend quality time with their children engaging in a fun activity together. The activities involved often focus on the parent and child working together, as well as the parent and child having positive touch (e.g. cuddles), which can be important in the creation of secure attachments. This time spent together solely focussed on playing, learning and bonding is vital in the development of a secure attachment and music therapy can provide a safe space for that to happen in.

Additionally, music therapy can be helpful for children in their development. Music is known to promote cognitive, physical and social goals in young children. Music therapy provides opportunities for children to engage with music, which is a cognitive stimulus. As children learn to understand and make music it can cause increased neuroplasticity and create new neural pathways in the brain. Physically, music therapy focuses on helping children reach motor skill milestones, both gross and fine. This can be done through dancing, doing certain actions to music or playing instruments. Lastly, music therapy groups for parent/toddler attachment can provide social opportunities for both the toddler and the parent. For young children, the opportunity to spend time with other young children in a fun, creative environment can be encouraging for social goals as they can interact with other young children and learn music together. For their parents, these groups can provide support in the form of other parents in the same position as them.

Music therapy can be incredibly effective in young children's lives and their relationships with their parents, and I hope this post has been helpful in understanding why. For more information, check out the resources below about attachment theory and music therapy.

I hope you enjoyed this post and feel free to leave me a comment below if you have further questions! You can also join my mailing list to stay up to do date with future posts. Thanks so much for reading!



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