Six Do’s of Working With Toddlers

by Matt Logan

Throughout my training and young career as a music therapist, I have had many opportunities to work with toddlers and preschool aged children.  I used to find this population to be incredibly intimidating, as I went virtually ten years with little to no contact with people in this age range.  Now, my group consisting of mostly three-year-olds is one of my favorite sessions each week.  Here I will list a few of my own observations, and I know you have many more.  Please feel free to comment and add to this discussion!

DO give clear directions. “Sit in your spot” or “choose an instrument” tends to be more effective than posing it as a question.  “Will you choose an instrument?” or “Can you sit down, please?” allows a two-year-old to use his or her favorite word, “no!”.  Shorten up those directions and make it clear what you want from them.

DO appreciate the unrestrained honesty offered by this population. Kids are ridiculously honest, and I love that.  They won’t pretend to be engaged out of politeness; instead, they will tell you or show you if an intervention sucks (hopefully with a different word choice).  On the other hand, when a child is completely absorbed in an intervention, you can see the growth happen right before your eyes.  I like to imagine the newly established neural pathways, physically creating links between neurons in their brains.  How beautiful is that?

DO be as musical as possible. Many kids songs rely on three chords and can become mundane for the therapist.  Find ways to “jazz” them up a little bit.  Not only will they become more interesting to you, but the kids will notice it as well.  I’m not sure if young children quite have the ability to distinguish a masterful composition from a lame one, but I do think they appreciate musicality and hearing new, unexpected things within music.  For starters, try this version of Itsy Bitsy Spider.  Challenge yourself and challenge them!

DO be a mirror. I learned many, many things during my internship, and one of the lessons I learned from Kirsten Nelson, MT-BC, is that kids reflect your energy (or lack thereof).  We have to model what we want from them.  Conversely, sometimes it is fun to reflect them.  An angry four-year-old might not appreciate that much, but a happy 18-month-old might really get a kick out of it!

DO have fun exploring. Structure is good, but, depending on the population, free time for musical exploration is also good.  Foster curiosity and interest in musical instruments.

DO use hand sanitizer regularly. Kids are cute, but they are one sneeze away from giving you a cold that will make you sound like Kermit the Frog in “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

These are just a few of the Do’s, and I know there are many more out there.  I am excited to hear your thoughts and additions!

-Matt

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