Why sing lullabies at all?

Singing to your children, particularly from an early age (the earlier the better!) benefits them in ways which may surprise you.

A Good Nightís Sleep ...

The primary function behind the whole genre of lullabies is to gently lull the child to sleep - and incidentally to then allow the singer to get a break! This is something that many lullabies are very good at, particularly when introduced as part of a bedtime routine. With my own children itís pajamas, teeth brushing etc, story, song, kiss and cuddle. This has remained constant over the years as they are growing up and gives them a sense of everything being normal and under control, even when the rest of the dayís routine is up in the air. Lullabies are tailor-made to aid restful sleep and traditional lullabies have been tried, tested and honed through the generations for maximum effect.

Bonding ...

The most obvious benefit emotionally is that the child and primary carer have an opportunity to focus on one another. The singer has the chance to express their love to the child on a very intimate level, without distraction, and the child can focus on the singer in a peaceful and unthreatening context.

Building Confidence ...

Knowing their primary carer is close by gives a child confidence to fall asleep. It has been postulated that some children cry when they are very tired and about to fall asleep (and indeed keep themselves awake in the process) because they are unnerved by the sensation of actually falling asleep. Whether this is true or not, a nervous child does not fall asleep easily. Sitting talking to a child, or reading aloud while they are in bed keeps them stimulated, interested in communicating with you and doesnít allow them to fall into restful sleep either. Singing to the child can help calm them and give them confidence to fall asleep, which can knock on to their confidence in daytime.

Cognitive Development ...

There has been a fair amount of interest recently in the fact that children are, from birth, 'wired for sound' - or, more specifically wired for music. There are specific neural connections which are made when a child listens to music of any kind, instrumental or vocal. These connections are, apparently, not made in any other way and can only be made in the early years. Once made, some researchers believe this neural 'wiring' may be used to support some other sense, such as visual or verbal. The more connections that are made, the more capacity in the brain is opened up for use. The conclusion has been drawn that the earlier music is introduced, the greater the potential for learning.

Speech and Language ...

Lullabies feature repetition, rhyme, assonance and alliteration. Repeating the same patterns again, by singing the same lullabies on other occasions, reinforces the sound recognition. Speaking to children is, of course, of tremendous value in speech and language development, but the value of singing is often overlooked. Lullabies, like nursery rhymes, provide children with the chance to hear sounds in predictable patterns, to recognise and understand those patterns in a way that speech alone does not. Further down the line these familiar patterns can be used by the children to practise their sounds without even realising they are doing so.

Listening Skills ...

Focussed listening is not something many carers often consider as a key part of their childís development, but listening to a solo voice, or a solo instrument, as opposed to a tape of imitation-pop-style music, means that the child can focus on what they are hearing. In other words, the child is listening, instead of just hearing. This is a very useful skill, which becomes increasingly important as the child moves into more formal learning environments, such as playgroup, nursery and then school. There is a place for the Tweenies and the Teletubbies and other lively, child-oriented pop, but it doesnít allow for the child to really listen. Thatís not what itís for. The same can be said of orchestral music where many instruments play full arrangements. It is good for a child to hear a huge variety of musical styles, but included among them there should be simple, uncluttered music and song. Lullabies are perfect in this context, with the added incentive for the child of listening to the voice of the person they care most about in the world.

Motor Development ...

When you sing a lullaby, to an infant especially, it is often when there is some sort of movement involved. We often think of the carer rocking the child in their arms. Personally, I found it to be far more effective to have the child resting on my chest, with their head on my shoulder, while I strolled slowly up and down or swayed from side to side. Rocking in a cradle was also a favourite and rolling back and forth in the pram, All of these actions while singing give the child the sensation of movement directly related to the rhythm of the song. Stroking or patting the child can have the same effect. This connection between hearing and feeling is thought by some researchers to lead on to age appropriate physical co-ordination, such as the ability to learn to dance. At later stages, dandling songs (songs sung while bouncing the child on your knee or similar actions) take on more of this role.

Cultural Awareness ...

As a Scot, living in Scotland, I felt it only natural to sing Scottish songs to my children. They will hear international songs like The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald at playgroup and on television, and we still sing these songs at home too, but they have few opportunities to learn Scottish songs outside the home. One of my passions is Scottish tradition and I am a firm believer that to have a really robust, healthy tradition, it must be firmly rooted in the home - not necessarily to the exclusion of all else!

A Gift for Life ...

'The Gift of Song' may be a clichť, but if you stop to think about it, singing costs nothing, but brings enormous pleasure. I come from a family where singing was pretty much taken for granted and as I moved away from home I discovered the pleasure it gave other people. When I joined the womenís singing workshop Aí Seinn Quines run by Feis Rois in mid-Ross-shire, it really came home to me how uplifting singing could be. It all came back to the introduction to singing I had at home. I have yet to encounter a child who does not like being sung to and does not like to sing. They may not sing all the way through life, but at least if they are introduced to it from the earliest age, they can come back to it at any time, whether in a group, in the shower or on the stage!

The Lullabies Themselves ...

Scotland has in her tradition a wealth of beautiful songs and lullabies are probably the most underrated of them. These are songs worth singing. Yes, they are aimed at children, but not by way of being childish themselves. They are songs to be sung by adults. Their form is such that they are ideal listening for children, and this does not prevent them from being enjoyed by adults too.

Are lullabies just good for children?

There are benefits to the singer too. The act of singing to a child is part of the so-called bonding process, building a close bond between carer and child, vital though out life. It can also be a calming process, taking a moment out of the dayís trachles to 'chill out' a bit. It is said of married couples that they should never go to bed still angry from and unresolved argument. It is also better for a carer to put a child into bed on a note of comfort rather than annoyance. Easy to say, of course, but bedtime can be a bit of a battlefield. Making space in the bedtime routine for a lullaby means that you have to set aside the annoyance, until tomorrow night at least. Singing can be surprisingly theraputic for the singer, and it is a calming way to fill the hours spent sitting up cuddling a sick child, when worry is to the forefront of your mind.

So Why Doesnít Everyone Sing Lullabies?

Youíre not a good singer

This is the most common reason Iíve been given. Believe me, you will never have a more appreciative and less critical audience than your baby. The baby has no idea what makes a good or bad singer and they donít care. What a baby is listening to is this person to whom they are so intimately attached reassuring, soothing, entertaining and communicating their love to them. On occasion this same baby may be so tired they want you to leave them alone to go to sleep, but donít let that put you off! A handful of nights like that in a lifetime do not cancel out all the other nights they revel in having you sing to them. Remember, it is very unlikely that anyone else is going to hear you sing. People often feel they would do anything for their baby; is it such a great sacrifice to sing to them? I have come across a surprising number of people who remember their mother as a lovely singer from when they were tiny, and discovered when they were older that in fact her voice wasnít that great at all. If you really feel that there is no way you can do it, download these lullabies and play them to your baby. It may not be quite the same, but you will still be doing your baby favour.

You donít know any lullabies...

That is why this website is here and the Kist o Dreams CD was made, to act as a resource. If you canít relate to these songs, feel free to adapt them to your situation, personalise them to your family. These are traditional songs and as such are open to adaptation. If all else fails, use other songs you know. A gentle, lilting version of Nelly the Elephant may not carry the same emotional charge, but it is a start.

Thanks to the millennium bunch,     Comunn na Gaidhlig,     Highland Council Ross and Cromarty Area


"Lullabies from Scottish tradition sung by Christina Stewart"
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