I wrote about how the sounds we make affect our mating potentials in I Love the Way You Say That (Matings Part 1) and Sing Me a Little Song (Matings Part 3). Those posts dealt with how women and men respond to the sounds their partners make. This post deals with a time the sounds we make are extremely important; when we’re with our children.
Mothers around the world sing or hum their children to sleep. Fathers around the world may not sing and often, when a mother or mother surrogate isn’t available, will hum, coo or otherwise vocalize to their children when it’s time to nap (and if they do sing, excellent!).
Those young minds are both amorphous and agile. Just because their eyes are closed don’t think they’re not listening…and learning.
Babes’ and young children’s brains are basically information gathering engines. Very little goes unnoticed by them and what they record is amazing in both scope and quality. They may not recognize what they record — sights, sounds, tastes, scents, touches, emotions, thoughts, … — as we do and record it never-the-less they do.
Examples of this type of recording and learning are cultural specific foods. Have you ever heard of comfort foods? Comfort foods are things we eat when we need solace, love, attention, caring, concern, …basically when we want to return to the womb to regroup. We seek out and eat the things mom and dad, grandma and grandpa gave us when we bruised our knee or lost a toy. This goes well beyond chocolate and such. Comfort foods are amazingly culture specific.
In my case, comfort foods include hot capocollo, soppresetta, spaghetti sauces that make your eyes water as they cook because they’re so spicy, … things my darling wife wouldn’t let past her lips. She, on the other hand, has the audacity to seek out things like liverwurst (oy!), sauerbraten (ok, I guess), sauerkraut (I’ve learned to live with it) and the like. Both are culture specific, both are comfort foods.
Much like foods, the sounds we hear as we go to sleep — especially when we’re children — create neural pathways that science is just beginning to figure out. It’s been known for a while that natural sleep helps us organize and systematize our memories. One new study indicates it also helps us learn to control our movements.
Our movements? In our sleep? When someone is singing?
Yes. Have you ever twitched while falling asleep, perhaps whacking your hand on the nightstand or kicking off the covers? Those twitches are called jactitations. Usually minor and often amusing, they can also be indications of more severe pathologies.
Jactitations occur when the conscious and non-conscious parts of the mind are handing over control from one to another. The brain knows not to let the body walk when we dream we’re walking, but sometimes the brain isn’t sure and we kick our legs once or twice.
In children, this is neuro- and sensori-motor practice. Our dogs and cats chase rabbits and sparrows in their sleep, twitching, sometimes woofing and meowing away. It’s much the same thing.
And it turns out singing, humming, cooing and vocalizing to our children (probably our pets, too), helps their brains learn how to control muscle movement. It allows for better mind-body integration and physical coordination. I don’t think anybody is exactly sure why just yet and there is evidence it is so.
The thing to remember is that it’s not talking (as in “conversation”), it’s non-verbal sounds. Talking (as noted in previous posts) uses different parts of the brain than does singing, cooing, etc. I’m willing to bet children’s brains are building pathways to match those adults have when they sing and such.
That’s real learning and yes, it would help in mind-body integration and physical coordination.
Sing a little song to your children as you lay them down to nap, moms and dads. It’ll let them know you love them, yes, and you’ll also be helping them later in life by preparing their brains and bodies to harmonize.