Parents of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder face enormous challenges. How do you educate a child who can’t seem to pay attention, has difficulty following directions, who daydreams in the classroom, who is disorganized and seems to be in constant motion? How can you teach him to get along with his peers when he has trouble taking turns, and when he acts and speaks without thinking? Children with ADD often have a hard time setting goals, managing their time, fostering healthy social relationships and building normal self esteem.
It may seem counterintuitive, therefore, to enroll your ADD child in a music lesson. After all, music lessons represent yet another confinement on that constantly-moving body, another structured activity for him to be distracted from, and another set of rules for him to fail to observe. Are music lessons setting up your ADD child for failure?
Take the cue from your child. Many ADD children have normal–or better than normal–attention spans, when they engage in an activity of their own choosing. If your child loves music and wants to learn to play an instrument, give him the opportunity! Music as a pastime can be a natural fit for an ADD child: after all, music speaks to the spontaneous, intuitive and impulsive side in all of us.
What can you expect your ADD child to gain from music lessons?
1. A safe, positive relationship with an adult.
Half an hour with a kind, interested adult may provide your child with one of the best social interactions he has had in his entire week. Before enrolling your ADD child in lessons, choose the teacher carefully. It is a plus if the teacher has had experience with an ADD child, but it does not need to be a prerequisite. Look for a teacher who is consistent with routines and who can give instructions clearly, but can also be flexible to meet your child’s needs. Your child will have a better chance of success if the teacher is patient and exhibits a positive, tolerant, encouraging personal style. Be sure to share any information with the instructor which will help him or her adapt the lessons to suit your child’s needs.
2. A creative outlet for an active imagination.
Many ADD children are incredibly creative! Music can be a tremendously rewarding activity for a child who likes to “think outside of the box” and do things just a little bit differently than everybody else. Music lessons can provide a learning experience where exploration and “breaking the rules” is not only tolerated but encouraged and rewarded.
3. One-on-one instruction.
Private music lessons provide an ideal learning environment for a child who is over-stimulated by the hubbub of a classroom. Your child’s distractibility is more easily managed in a quiet music studio, and challenges with auditory and sensory integration are minimized when the only voices belong to him and to his teacher. Most children make amazing progress with individual instruction and attention, ADD children are no different.
Learning a musical instrument develops concentration for all students. If your child is already intrigued with music, you may find that he actually spends a great deal of time with his instrument. Allow some flexibility with his practice time; he may need more frequent, shorter practice sessions. If he becomes excited about a particular piece of music or a musical projects, however, you may find that he is practicing as much as–or more than–any ordinary student.
5. Experiential Learning
Musical instruction utilizes hands-on, learn-by-doing style of learning. Children with ADD often learn more effectively through active interaction and engagement as opposed to reading a book or passively listening to a teacher in the classroom. Your child’s music teacher may want to be creative in designing your child’s repertoire, be flexible with curriculum, and be prepared to take exploratory detours.
Playing a musical instrument naturally relaxes us, and for a child who is overly active it can provide a way to self-calm. Some studies have shown that certain types of music can even lower heart rate and blood pressure! The physical component of playing some instruments can also a great way for an active child to release excess energy.
Patience is yet another benefit to learning a musical instrument. ADD children often struggle with a low frustration level. A wise teacher will offer a new piece of music to your child in small chunks; this enables the student to be successful in overcoming small obstacles and to learn perseverance. It is a great way to build confidence and patience, which will help your child later in life when bigger challenges arise.
8. Self Esteem
Many ADD children struggle with self esteem because they receive far more negative messages about their behavior than most children do: sit still, stop talking, don’t interrupt, wait your turn, stop fidgeting, follow directions. Excelling in an activity such as music can help to counterbalance that negative message. Music can provide your child with a true accomplishment, and with that a sense of himself as a competent and worthy human being.
9. Social growth
ADD children often have trouble “fitting in” with their peers. Children who excel in at least one thing are more likely to earn the regard and respect of others, and are less likely to be left on the fringes of their social milieu. You may want to encourage your musical child to join music programs at his school in order to increase his opportunities to develop his own social network.
Every child has gifts and liabilities. The most effective way for your child to surmount his challenges is by developing his talents. What is your child’s passion? If it is music, offer him the opportunity to excel at it!