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 nearly three years ago, 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 nearly nine, 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?

In my project, ‘Adopting a Musical Approach’ I am hoping to do exactly that. I want to write an album of songs that incorporate the musical features of early communication, as well as being fun and engaging. I want this to be relevant to other adoptive families as well, so I’d like to hear from you – how do you use music at home? Do you listen to CDs, sing around the house, or do you play interactive musical games? What sort of topics would you like me to address? Maybe talking about emotions, transitions, belonging and being loved, school, or self-esteem?

Although I am hoping to fund the majority of this project via arts grants (and am grateful to have received some early funding from the Folk Camps Society) I have also set up a Kickstarter project where people can get involved right from the off – from pre-ordering your copy of the CD, to opportunities to sing on it or appear in a music video!

I really need to spread the word to as many people as possible, so if you are interested please share this blog or the Kickstarter project page with your friends and family, and get in touch to let me know what you think! You can email me on [email protected] or find me on social media @folkycat

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/folkycat/adopting-a-musical-approach

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Sarah and Martin - Adopting an older child

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