Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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Movement Matters

After many years of making music with children, Eve Kodiak, M.M., became interested in the brain/body processes that underlie the learning process. As an Educational Kinesiologist, she now works with people of all ages, using music and developmental movement to create positive change. Eve can be found in her office at The Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge, MA, or at home in New Hampshire, writing and recording. Her CD/book sets include Rappin' on the Reflexes and Feelin' Free, which combine developmental movements with songs, raps, and narrations with music. Eve also performs and records as an improvising classical pianist. More information and articles on music and developmental movement may be found at www.evekodiak.com.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.

Tonight You Belong To Me: Reactions and Reflections

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Eve in Concert Sunday Oct. 6 at 2 PM, Newton Free Library, MA – FREE! (Come a little early, this venue usually gets capacity crowds).

My last post, Tonight You Belong To Me, has only been up for a couple of days - but already, it’s sparked a lot of interesting email conversations. Keep the dialogue going! It is great to hear from you. Meanwhile, here are some more reflections on those conversations.

The Frame is (Almost) Everything. Some people were embarrassed that they had not noticed the little girl’s fright, and just seen the “cute.” But when someone sends you a link saying, “This girl is so adorable!” you are set up to see cute.

I happen to be in the business of discovering the hidden agendas that drive behavior, so I can’t help “reading” the video from that point of view. But my first reaction was also about how beautiful and compelling this little girl was. My discomfort came quickly – but it came second. Which is appropriate – first we see the glow of the child! That is always the most important thing to see.

How Do We Know It’s Not Just a Game? Young children don’t stop beloved activities for fun. For them, “fun” means going through the routine, over and over and over again in exactly the same way – and if you try to change even one element, you’ll probably hear about it! We see this when the father leaves out his usual echo – twice! The second time, the four year-old actually puts her hand on the ukelele, and stops the music until he sings the expected word. That she continually interrupts their shared routine to listen for the fireworks is a signal that she is authentically afraid.

How Do We Know She’s Not Just Thoughtful and Inquisitive? There is a moment midway through the video where the little girl’s eyes roll up to her right, and everything stops. One of my colleagues thought that perhaps she was just being observant.

But observing what? Her gaze was not turned outward, but inward, and her expression is almost vacant. I don’t know what she was seeing, but I know it was not a nice thing. It might have had to do with the fireworks.

When a child keeps interrupting, over and over, to say the exact same thing (in slightly different ways), we know that she is the opposite of curious. Instead, she is compulsive. Creativity and problem-solving are not possible in this state. Compulsive or rote behavior is one way for us to suspect that a child’s system is in survival, dealing with fear, or panic, or rage, or anxiety, or care-seeking (which often looks like clinging).

Aren’t Her Physical Actions– Rocking, Grabbing Feet –  Just Natural Things Children Do At Bedtime? Yes, they are! But just because we recognize them doesn’t mean that they don’t have meaning. When things are familiar, it is easier to put our own assumptions and “spin” on them, and forget to ask, “Why are the children doing these things?”

Sometimes they are soothing themselves (rocking back and forth). Sometimes they are trying to get clear about something (rocking side to side). Sometimes they are trying to discharge excess energy (grabbing feet). And the ways in which they do these, and other movements, tell us all sorts of things about how they are feeling and thinking. For young children, the cutting edge in brain development is sensory-motor. Their bodies are simply extensions of their brains! Their movement is our dictionary, giving us a way of naming what is probably going on in their minds.

Setting Up A Conflict Between Connection and Survival. There are certain phenomena that we seem to be wired to be scared of. For example, a friend related this story to me – “My body stiffened – my hands became claws – my jaw became rigid – I found myself backing away. Then I saw the rattlesnake.”

How do we know to be instinctively afraid of small creatures with the capacity to kill us instantly? It’s probably in our DNA – developed over hundreds of thousands of years as human beings living in nature. Snakes, spiders, bared teeth, flashes of light, fire, loud noises . . .

I was crossing the street last week, and there was construction going on, and the loudest sound I have ever heard richocheted through my spine. It was minutes before I could even think. I’m a grownup, I know that that bucketloader is not an avalanche. But I’m still not walking there again anytime soon.

When a child’s survival system goes into full out alert, and we pretend that there is nothing happening, we set up a discrepancy between their survival imperative (which is instinctual and healthy) and their desire to connect to the caregiver (which is also instinctual and healthy). When we deny a child’s reality, we make them choose our care over their experience. But if we want our children to grow up strong and self-confident, we need to acknowledge them, respect them, and comfort and teach them where they are. When we deny their instincts, they learn not to trust themselves. And that is the last message we want to give them.

“When my daughter flew into a rage, I didn’t know how to go in. . .” Something I’ve learned from teaching children’s classes – and which has been corroborated for me by music therapists – is that, when a child is agitated, you don’t act calm. The disjunction between your affect and theirs leaves no shared area for communication. When a child bangs on the piano, you are loud with them – and because you have matched their energy, you have the opportunity to gradually bring it down.

I have seen Daniel Hughes, a pioneering therapist in Attachment Therapy, uses empathy, reflected in voice tone, body language, and words to match a child’s affect and help bring him to a new place. Here’s a link  in which he talks about this approach. He is often working with kind of hardcore issues that arise with children in foster care. But necessity is the mother of invention, and the emotional model he provides can be used for everyday fears – like fireworks.

Practice. But in order to be able to safely provide that emotional model, we have to be safe ourselves. We need to do our own work so that we can trust our own instincts, know that we are the right person for that child at that time. We need to deal with our own triggers so that we don’t get triggered.

I used to not be able to work with junior high kids, because my own junior high experience was so awful. I worked it through, over time, and now I am OK when kids come in with issues that resemble the ones I used to have. And having worked those issues through, I can now be more helpful – because understand what they are going through in a visceral way. And I can model for them coming through the other end. When we work through our own demons and dysfunctions, they become our gifts.

But don’t wait to be triggered – we end up learning a lot in crisis, but we tend to do better in crises if we’ve been doing our work all along. We need to do our own personal work in our own personal way. Then, when we are more in touch with our own instincts, we are more able to help children be in touch with theirs.

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