Need a minute,
mama?
Get the best of Motherly—delivered to your inbox.
(We thought so.)
Subscribe to the Motherly Minute
for need-to-know parenting
news + top product recommendations
delivered daily to your inbox.

By subscribing, you agree to our Privacy Policy
and Terms & Conditions

Welcome to
#Team Motherly.

Check your inbox for an email
to confirm your subscription
—we can’t wait to start bringing
the best of Motherly right to you.

It’s science: 2 years of music lessons can boost your child’s brain power

Print Friendly and PDF

Parents often encourage their kids to take up an instrument in the hopes that the after-school activity will amplify in-school performance. Several studies have looked at the link between music training and cognitive skills in kids, but the results haven’t been super definitive in the past.


The latest research may change some minds, though (and increase enrollment in band camps), as it shows music training really can boost a child’s brain power.

A recently published five-year study conducted by neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California examined the impact of music instruction on kids’ social, emotional and cognitive development.

FEATURED VIDEO

The results, along with initial results published last year, suggest as little as two years of music training can boost a child’s brain power in areas responsible for decision-making, giving them the ability to focus attention and inhibit impulses (a combo that comes in handy in the classroom).

According to USC neuroscientists, music instruction changes both the white matter (which carries signals) and the grey matter (which processes information) in a child’s brain. (So why not start early?)

“There has been a long suspicion that music practice has a beneficial effect on human behavior. But this study proves convincingly that the effect is real,” says Antonio Damasio, University Professor and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute.

Indeed, researchers found that children who recieved music instruction had more thinckness and volume in certain areas of the brain compared to peers who didn’t take music lessons.

“We have documented longitudinal changes in the brains of the children receiving music instruction that are distinct from the typical brain changes that children that age would develop,” explains Assal Habibi, the lead author of the study. “Our findings suggest that musical training is a powerful intervention that could help children mature emotionally and intellectually.”

The work is important not just for parents who are thinking about piano lessons, but also for policy makers because it comes at a time when funding for public school music programs are being slashed or, in some cases, already non-existent.

“Together these results demonstrate that community music programs can offset some of the negative consequences that low socioeconomic status can have on child development,” says Habibi.

The science shows music lessons speed up maturity in areas of the brain responsible for sound processing, language and speech development and reading skills. So while the sound of a child practicing the clarinet may not be music to a parents’ ears, it could be the foundation for a future that sounds a lot better.

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Thanks for subscribing!

Check your email for a confirmation message.

By subscribing, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions

As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

It's the kind of news no one wants to report and that no elected official wants to have to give to constituents, but on Wednesday Connecticut's Governor, Ned Lamont broke the news that an infant in his state died due to complications of COVID-19.

"It is with heartbreaking sadness today that we can confirm the first pediatric fatality in Connecticut linked to #COVID19. A 6-week-old newborn from the Hartford area was brought unresponsive to a hospital late last week and could not be revived," Lamont tweeted.

According to the governor, the baby tested positive for COVID-19.

"This is absolutely heartbreaking. We believe this is one of the youngest lives lost anywhere due to complications relating to COVID-19," he wrote.

FEATURED VIDEO

Lamont continued: "This is a virus that attacks our most fragile without mercy. This also stresses the importance of staying home and limiting exposure to other people. Your life and the lives of others could literally depend on it. Our prayers are with the family at this difficult time."

Lamont initially said the baby was 6 weeks old, but Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin later confirmed the baby girl was 7 weeks old, NBC Connecticut reports.

Before this baby's death, the youngest person to die from COVID-19 in Connecticut was 35 years old. The Connecticut case follows the death of a 9-month-old infant in Illinois on March 23. That baby's death is still being investigated as it is presumed to have been caused by COVID-19 but that has not yet been confirmed. The results of that cause of death investigation are expected within days, The Chicago Tribune reported this week.

Health officials are asking parents to take the social distancing guidelines seriously because while preliminary research suggests that children with COVID-19 usually don't get as sick as adults, a study posted by the journal Pediatrics found babies and preschoolers can become severely ill if they get COVID-19 (older kids are also are not immune, as the recent deaths of teens in France and London, England illustrate).

We are not reporting on this news to scare you, mama. We are reporting it to inform you so that you can make the best choices possible to protect your family.

Here is how you can protect you babies from COVID-19:

According to Dr. Aaron Milstone, M.D., M.H.S., a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and an infectious disease expert at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the best way to keep our kids from getting COVID-19 is to avoid exposure. That means staying home and avoiding contact with people who don't live in your home or who are sick or have been exposed to sick people.

"Children are exposed to COVID-19 when the virus contacts their eyes, nose, mouth or lungs. This usually occurs when a nearby infected person coughs or sneezes, which releases respiratory droplets into the air and onto the child's face or nearby surfaces such as tables, food or hands," Dr. Milstone explains.

Speaking on Good Morning America this week, another expert, Dr. David Kimberlin (professor and co-director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama-Birmingham) reminded parents that there are other viruses going around that are not COVID-19.

"Not every fever, not every cough is going to be this new COVID-19 virus," said Kimberlin. "That said, the coronavirus is circulating widely and so it has to be on our radar and part of what we're thinking. Pediatricians across the country are on heightened awareness with this."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents call their doctor if their infant is showing symptoms that could be COVID-19 (including fever, cough and shortness of breath). Your pediatrician can tell you if you need to take your baby to the ER.

If your infant or child has difficulty breathing, can't keep down liquids, has bluish lips, confusion or won't wake up, call 911.

[An earlier version of this post stated the baby's 6 weeks old. It has been updated with clarification from Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who says the baby was 7 weeks old.]

News

The World Health Organization and other organizations agree that pregnant people have the right to have their partner or another companion present at their birth, but recently several New York hospitals barred partners from delivery wards. Pushback from the government forced them to reverse course—but a recent case has some hospitals tightening visitor policies without issuing outright bans.

A New York state father made headlines this week after he hid his coronavirus symptoms from hospital staff at the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital so that he could be present for the birth of his child. When the mother started showing coronavirus symptoms shortly after giving birth, the father told hospital staff that he had been exposed and was symptomatic when he came to the hospital.

FEATURED VIDEO

"After the mother exhibited symptoms, and the OB team learned that the partner had been exposed to COVID-19 and was symptomatic, the patient was tested and all staff who had been in contact were informed of their possible exposure," a hospital spokesperson explained in a statement to media.

Thankfully, no staff members tested positive and the family has been sent home to quarantine, but the case highlighted the need for stricter screening of visitors. Before this case, the hospital asked visitors questions to confirm their health status. Now, they're checking temperatures at the door and every 12 hours for the duration of their visit.

"It was purely an honor system before," UR Medicine spokesman Chip Partner told The Democrat and Chronicle. "Now we're adding the temperature check."

"Our health care team understands how important it is to pregnant patients to have a support person with them during labor, and therefore, additional safeguards have been added to allow this to continue safely," the hospital's statement to media explains.

It continues: "We will continue to weigh all the medical evidence available to continue to make the best possible decision for all our patients, visitors and staff."

It would be heartbreaking for a parent to not be present at the birth of their child, but it would be even more heartbreaking if other babies contracted coronavirus. It is important that people be honest with medical care providers during this time of crisis.

News

Looking for more creative activities to keep littles entertained while isolating during the coronavirus outbreak? We hear you, mama. Quarantine life isn't easy, that's why we were thrilled to hear that the Library of Congress is collaborating with Captain Underpants and Dog Man author Dav Pilkey to create weekly video drawing lessons for kids.

Starting today, their website will include free videos and downloadable activities for kids to participate in. And, on Fridays at 8 am, viewers can enjoy Pelkey's reading sessions from his books on its website and social media feeds.

In a new video, Pilkey explains that he's stuck indoors just like his young fans are and is spending some time drawing his Little Petey the Cat character.

FEATURED VIDEO

"And one thing a lot of people don't know is that little Petey is actually based on my mom. My mom is one of the most optimistic, positive people I've ever met. Even when I was a kid and I was having a hard time at school she always had my back, and she always believed in me. Even sometimes when I didn't believe in myself. And little Petey is a lot like my mom. He's always looking on the bright side of life and I think that's an important thing to do, especially when times are tough," Pilkey says, before reminding kids to keep drawing, reading and doing good during the pandemic.

It's a message kids (and moms) need these days.

"The Library of Congress is delighted to join forces with our friend Dav Pilkey and the nimble team at Scholastic to bring you Dav Pilkey at Home," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden told Publishers Weekly. "Our hope is to combine Dav's artistic gifts and charisma with the wealth of knowledge in our collections. We know that Dav's message of Do Good and the Library's message of Engage, Inspire, Inform are natural partners and will bring children, parents and teachers many happy and fruitful moments during this difficult time."

Each show will also feature tips from Pilkey for children to act out scenes from Dog Man books and for creating new characters of their own. This initiative truly comes as no surprise as Pilkey has made it his mission to promote literacy and creativity in children over the last two decades.

Be sure to tune in and if you need even more Pilkey, check out his other hilarious and heart-warming books.

News

Mothers carry an incredibly heavy mental load during the best of times and during this pandemic, we are facing unprecedented psychological challenges. And a new Pew Research Center survey found women are reporting higher rates of psychological distress right now, compared to men.

According to Pew, people financially affected by COVID-19 and those juggling childcare after school and day care closures are more likely to be psychologically impacted by this crisis. Women in America are both more likely to be living paycheck-to-paycheck and more likely to be responsible for children when schools close, so it makes sense that we are more distressed right now.

FEATURED VIDEO

But COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for society to abandon mothers—we will need to support each other in the coming months more than ever.

Marisa Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University. According to Young, during the pandemic parents may "endure more than what might be psychologically manageable," even if they have the privilege of working from home. "During this outbreak, parents are suffering," Young writes for The Conversation.

She continues: "They are dealing with one of the most consequential impacts on the psychological health of the modern-day workforce: work-family conflict. This conflict has to do with the competing demands of paid work and family obligations. Additional workplace closures and social distancing practices will make it even harder for working parents over the next few months."

If you're not flourishing in this new world, mama, don't worry. No one is.

"The situation feels impossible for two-parent homes where both partners can work from home—and gets exponentially harder for single parents, kids with special needs, families experiencing homelessness, and parents who have to work outside of the home. Add financial worries, lack of proper technology for online distance learning, and logistical challenges like grocery shopping and managing outside time while social distancing, and it can feel downright paralyzing," Cheryl Wischhover writes for Vox.

It's not you, mama. It really is this hard

Single mom Devonne Moise of Charlotte, North Carolina was already struggling financially before the pandemic hit, and how she's trying to homeschool her children, she told Christina Bolling of the Charlotte Observer. "I just feel like, God, I'm trying," she told Boiling from the front porch of her home where her children were trying to do schoolwork but barriers like missing Chromebook cables and WIFi disconnection were slowing their progress.

"My kids say, 'Mom, as long as you stay positive, we'll know it's okay.' So I don't let them see me frustrated," she said. "But I'm just so tired." Moise said.

She's not just physically tired, she's emotionally spent. Extreme fatigue is a symptom of depression and psychologists say the pandemic is increasing our stress levels, anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Even parents have panic attacks

According to Pew, almost 20% of U.S. adults say they've had a physical reaction to pandemic news in recent weeks, and this is especially true for people who are facing financial hardship. For many, these physical reactions come in the form of panic attacks.

Google's data shows that searches for "panic attack symptoms" are up 100% since the pandemic started and there has been a surge in calls to mental health hotlines.

If you are suffering from panic attacks know that you are not alone. "The piece that gets people going in a classic panic attack is often that they feel as though they can't breathe," Sheila Addison, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, tells Popular Science.

Addison recommends those in the midst of a panic attack attempt to slow their breathing, and focus on counting to four while inhaling, take a pause, and then exhale to four. Repeating that process doesn't instantly end a panic attack but it does diminish it, she explains.

Ask for help when you need it

If fear and panic attacks are taking over your life, ask for help, mama. In a piece for The Washington Post, single mom and writer Pooja Makhijani explained how her anxiety was exacerbated as COVID-19 cases in her home state of New Jersey skyrocketed. When she found herself panicking she reached out.

"I'm asking for help, which for now comes mostly in the form of phone calls for me and virtual play dates for my daughter," she writes.

"And I'm making myself available to others—as a resource for recipes or home schooling activities and as a listening ear to those whose challenges are different from mine. Being open and vulnerable has served me well in past difficult situations, and now while we are social distancing, I'm reaching into that well of giving often."

We mothers can support each other, but we must also demand companies, employers and lawmakers support us.

There are several well-researched ways companies can support workers' mental health if they are working remotely, and flexibility is a big one.

Government support for those who cannot work from home is important, too, and lawmakers may need to consider innovative ways to help America's stressed mothers. Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a National Clinician Scholar at the Yale University School of Medicine is calling on the government to expand SNAP and WIC to allow users to order groceries online using Instacart or other services.

But right now, even mothers who don't need SNAP or WIC are having difficulty ordering groceries online, something that is certainly contributing to mothers' psychological distress and the stress of delivery workers.

Bottom line: Mothers need support to keep working, support if they can't work, and support to feed their families during this challenging time. And when the curve flattens and we are able to leave our homes, affordable childcare and maternal mental health support will be key to rebuilding a post-pandemic America.

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.