ER and Childhood Stress Given that early ER development centers on controlling arousal (Calkins & Hill, 2007) and handling stress (Feldman, 2009), it seems valuable to connect ER development to the childhood stress response. In adults, the classic “fight, flight, or freeze” response is the body’s adaptive reaction to a stressor (Perry & Pollard, 1998). Stress responses exhibit diﬀerently in children. A child’s stress response generally takes one of two forms, hyperarousal or dissociative (Mullin & Hinshaw, 2007; Perry & Pollard, 1998). One’s preferred response pattern is formed in infancy and is influenced by caregiver-infant interactions. For example, when an infant experiences stress, its initial reaction is to cry, a hyperarousal response intended to draw the caregiver closer (Perry & Pollard, 1998). If this does not work, the infant will attempt to manage the stress without caregiver support; these self-soothing “managing” behaviors are on the dissociative end of the continuum. In general, behaviors that indicate a hyperarousal response include inattention impulsivity, anxiety, hyperactivity, hypervigilance, and antisocial behaviors (Mullin & Hinshaw, 2007; Perry & Pollard, 1998) whereas those that indicate a dissociative response include poor attention control, poor behavior initiation (Eisenberg et al., 2007), and maladaptive selfsoothing behaviors such as rocking, avoidance, numbing, daydreaming, and fainting (Perry & Pollard, 1998). Practice Recommendations Although research is needed to understand how music therapy may address ER development, the following preliminary guidelines are recommended: View hyperarousal and dissociative behaviors as indications that a child may be dysregulated. These behaviors do not need “fixing” but are clues about the child’s current state and how he or she responds to stress. If a child is dysregulated, the music therapist’s first response should be to facilitate the transition to a regulated state. Once regulated, processing can occur to understand the trigger that instigated the dysregulation and to develop strategies for coping with future triggers. ER development is closely tied to the caregiver-child relationship. Thus, the client would likely benefit if
imagine 5(1), 2014
the music therapist maintained an open communication with caregivers on issues related to the child’s ER abilities (e.g., regulatory challenges that emerge or triggers that are identified) and music strategies that facilitate regulation. Given the shared neural networks implicated in music and ER processing (Sena Moore, 2013), music may serve as a useful ER strategy. Furthermore, developing strategies are frequently practiced in early childhood. Thus, an eﬀective approach may involve developing, teaching, and practicing a musicbased ER strategy (e.g., singing, improvising, moving to music) during sessions and, if appropriate, training caregivers on eﬀective music strategies for use outside music therapy. Some moments during sessions may be considered stressful to clients prone to ER challenges (e.g., transitions, when a new experience is introduced, or when a group member is added). One factor that mitigates stress is familiarity, which can help a client feel safe. If working with a group prone to ER diﬃculties, the music therapist should consider consistently incorporating experiences that are familiar and “safe” for clients. These can serve to structure the session and can be utilized on an ad hoc basis to facilitate a client’s shift to a regulated state. As stated earlier, poor ER skills put children at an increased risk for poor interpersonal skills, social competency diﬃculties, and academic challenges (Calkins & Hill, 2007; Eisenberg et al., 2007)—all of which can be addressed through music therapy. Furthermore, there seems to be a neural connection between music and ER processing (Sena Moore, 2013). Thus, although music therapy research in this area is in its infancy, ER development is an important concept for music therapists to understand and incorporate into practice. References Bargh, J. A. & Williams, L. E. (2007). The nonconscious regulation of emotion. In J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 429-445). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Calkins, S. D. & Hill, A. (2007). Caregiver influences on emerging emotion regulation: Biological and environmental transactions in early development. In
The focus of imagine 2014 is on family-centered practice – a trend taking hold in music therapy circles worldwide. While many practitioners...