In this guest blog post, Adoption Focus adopter Cat McGill looks at how music can be therapeutic to adopted children.


I’ve always had trouble deciding whether I wanted to be a musician or a psychologist, so since I was a teenager I’ve pretty much hopped between (or straddled!) the two. True to form, when my husband and I adopted our son with Adoption Focus, I became really interested in how I could use music to help him – in managing everyday situations, filling in gaps in his development, and building our relationship.

Tickle (that’s what I call him on the internet) is a very anxious little boy, and music can really help to calm and regulate him. At home we use songs to help him navigate difficult points in the day, such as changing activities, tidying up, getting dressed, and travelling in the car. To build our relationship I use a lot of play songs with him that involve us being close together or touching – like Jelly on a Plate, Horsey Horsey and Jack in the Box. We also play a game where Tickle makes noises and I copy him, trying to match the pitch, rhythm, and vocal tone as closely as I can. Tickle absolutely loves this game; my vocalisations are a strong signal to him that I am totally focussed on him in that moment, and that I have heard and acknowledged him. It’s a silly, fun game, but it’s building important connections in his brain.

Recently I’ve been reading about how we communicate with babies, and how there are musical elements to our early communications that are consistent across different people, and across different cultures. It seems crazy, but there are specific melodic, rhythmic, and tonal patterns that humans instinctively seem to use with young babies, no matter where in the world they live, and what sort of music they listen to. These musical communication experiences are really important in building the pathways for social interaction, communication, and relating to others as the child grows, and it saddens me to think that Tickle, and children like him, will likely have missed out.

As adopters we are taught to fill in the developmental gaps, to give our children these experiences that they have missed out on – but Tickle is growing up fast, so I don’t really want to do endless baby talk with him. Sure, he enjoys a bit of regression as much as anyone else (!) but I wondered whether there was another way that I could help him experience some of these early communication building blocks. Then I started to think; if psychologists have precisely identified some of these musical features of early communication, what if I were able to take them and incorporate them in to a series of new songs?

With my project, ‘Adopting a Musical Approach’ I do exactly that. I’ve written a set of songs that incorporate the musical features of early communication, and which are also fun and engaging. Song can be a valuable tool for learning - with the added benefit that music often seems to find its way to the deepest parts of the brain in a way that we don’t entirely understand yet. These songs will be available on CD and I’ll be performing them live in a series of free concerts in summer 2019.

This project is designed to help adoptive families primarily, but the songs and games devised throughout the course of the project can of course be enjoyed by any and all children!  


Click here for more information about ‘Adopting a Musical Approach’, including details of tour dates and how to purchase a copy of the CD.

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