Do you sing to your grandchildren? There’s no better way to create a special bond with your infant grandchildren than by singing to them!
While babies are learning to understand faces, sounds, and the world around them, hearing your voice sing to them regularly helps them become familiar with your sound. Your voice ultimately becomes recognizable to your grandchild, helping them learn that you love them! It’s a lovely way to communicate with them even when they’re tiny infants. It doesn’t matter how well you sing – it’s not a competition. Infants aren’t judging your pitch. It’s the attentiveness, the feeling, the repetition that they respond to.
I’ve been singing since I was a young child. I sang in my Brownie and Girl Scout troops, at summer camp, in Sunday school, in my college sorority, and in my temple’s choir. So many melodies and lyrics are stored in my brain that it was natural to sing to my children. When my granddaughters arrived, I sang to them the day after they were born. I made CDs for my first two granddaughters before today’s technology made it simple to make playlists. I also composed songs for them about the day they were born and sang them on their first birthdays.
The Value of Singing
Paula Span, the author of The Bubbe Diaries, first sang to her granddaughter just a few hours after she was born. The infant was “wrapped up like a burrito in a striped blanket” when Span started singing to her. That first song wasn’t a Yiddish folk tune or anything as classy as a Brahms’ lullaby, it was “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys. She admits she hadn’t thought about the song in decades but the lyrics resonated and came to her lips — “a little one making my heart come all undone.”
Another time she was serving peas to her granddaughter and a 50s song poured out — again she asked herself: Where the heck did that come from?
She started asking other grandmas what they first sang to their grandbabies. They sang lullabies, children’s songs in several languages, melodies they’d learned from their own grandparents, repurposed versions of Beatles songs, Dean Martin, Billy Joel, Bob Marley, and Barney. The most obscure song was a British pop ditty called “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” I happen to know that one by heart and have sung it to my granddaughters many times!
Most of us find the music we sing to our grandchildren just emerges in the moment, unexpectedly and spontaneously. Span wondered whether we have compartments in our brains where we store these musical refrains and then emotional moments release them years later.
She spoke with researchers and found out what many grandparents know intuitively — people around the world sing to children and it’s among the most meaningful activities we can do with them.
Research on Singing
Researchers have found a lot about the connection between babies and music. One researcher Dr. Samuel Mehr, director of Harvard’s music lab, told her that a baby’s memory for music is “shocking.” Even tiny infants are perceptive listeners. They respond to rhythm and pitch. They can distinguish familiar melodies and remember them for as long as 8 months later.
Another researcher, Dr. Sandra Treehub at the University of Toronto, learned that infants pay more attention to singing than speech and that can pay off. In a lab setting, babies paid attention to recorded singing for almost 9 minutes before they start fussing or crying which is twice as long as they pay attention to recorded speech.
Music helps distract them from their distress. “You start singing and they’re completely transported.” Babies are bombarded by new sights, sounds, and experiences which may explain why they respond so strongly to repetition.
When we sing a song over and over, babies learn to anticipate the next line of the song which can be rewarding and comforting to the baby. Eventually, babies can use music to reassure and calm themselves. On Span’s weekly Bubbe days with her young granddaughter when she puts her down for a nap, she can hear Bartola singing to herself and lulling herself to sleep.
Singing lets babies know that this grownup is paying attention to them which is so important to vulnerable infants. It’s a signal of who’s a friend, a member of my group.
9 More Reasons to Sing to Your Grandchildren
If you’re still not convinced you should sing to your grandchildren, here are 9 other benefits of singing that help babies:
- Learn rhythm
- Become familiar with new words
- Learn their own name
- Develop listening skills
- Provide brain development
- Be playful and have fun
- Get moving
- Stay calm
- Enjoy a fun bedtime cue
One final reason to sing is for your own health. Singing can relieve stress, stimulate the immune response, improve breathing and lung function, and improve your mental health and mood. So follow that popular mantra: “sing like no one’s listening” and rest assured, it’s only your grandchild’s listening that matters.