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.

Why Is That Child Screaming?

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For those in the Boston area – I am giving a free talk Saturday, Feb. 1 at 11 AM at the Robbins Library in Arlington, MA, for TACA (Talk About Curing Autism) called “From Fight, Flight, Freeze! to Breathe, Smile, Move! How Simple Movements Can Transform Your Child.” 

It can be hard to remember in the grocery store, as your child emits blood-curdling shrieks from the shopping cart – or at home, when you are late for work and your child is about as easy to move as a block of granite – or when your child is running naked around the house and you are in hot pursuit with a pair of pants in your hands - or on the playground, when your child has just hit another child for absolutely no reason . . .

At these times, it can be hard to remember that children are behaving in these ways because they believe that they will die if they don’t. Fight, flight, freeze! are automatic responses, programmed deep in the oldest part of the brain, to make sure that we survive life-threatening situations.

As adults, we may know that children will not die of candy deprivation – or of exposure when they leave the bedroom – or of suffocation by their own clothes. Parents know that the little girl nicely waving bye-bye has no aggressive intent towards their own offspring. But the child who reacts aggressively doesn’t know that. When children have what seem to be inappropriate responses, they are acting reflexively. Their brains tell them that that they have to react with maximum amplitude to just to survive.

Infant reflexes are the automatic movement patterns, hard-wired to the brainstem, that keep us alive. These movements emerge, develop, and integrate from conception on through gestation, birth, babyhood, and toddlerhood, and they form the bedrock of everything we think, do, and feel. Infant reflexes “tell” us how to suck, swallow, breathe, turn over, look into our mother’s eyes, snuggle, reach, grasp, creep, crawl, walk . . . The impulses of infant reflexes are with us throughout our lives. They return to us even as adults in moments of stress – as when we jump back from the curb to avoid the bus, or put our hands up before our eyes to avoid an oncoming object.

As we grow and develop, we build neural networks from the brainstem throughout the whole brain. We have more choices about our movements. But when the red alert sounds in the brain’s survival system, we have no choice. We just react.

It is impossible to reason with anyone who is in real survival stress - adult or child, fully- or differently-abled – because survival trumps every other brain function. In order to shift behavior from the core, we need to put those automatic, reflexive responses to rest, and get the whole brain and body working together.

But “Use your words!” just doesn’t cut it. Reflexes operate below the radar of consciousness, and certainly below the level of language. And if your goal is self-regulation rather than outer control, imposing rewards and punishments can ultimately be a dead-end. To transform fight, flight, freeze! to breathe, smile, move!  we need techniques that change the survival defaults. We need to directly address the motherboard of the survival system: the reflexes.

Neurons communicate by passing electrical impulses through synaptic gaps. But synapses don’t transmit just any neural signal to the brain! Incoming sensory information is filtered for importance. Under normal circumstances, only 10 to 25% of the signals a neuron receives will be make it through the synapse. The rest is discarded as noise.

Which signals make it through? If rats* are any indication, important information appears as bursts of high frequency. As far as I know, these kinds of neurological experiments have not been performed upon children in the midst of tantrums! But we do know that when the brain/body survival system is active, reflexes are the signals that are given priority, and all other signals are ignored. And “bursts of high frequency” certainly seems to describe a lot of survival stress behavior!

If we want to change the fight, flight, freeze! response, we need to change thekind of information that is getting through to the brain. That means sending the “all-clear” signal through the synapses. When survival stress movements are released and the body starts performing normal movements again, the brain seems to get the signal that the crisis is over.

Changing the movement changes the brain function. This is what reflex integration is all about.

In the last post, “From Fight, Flight, Freeze! to Breathe, Smile, Move!” there is a list of quick do-it-yourself reflex integration techniques framed for adults. These work equally well for children, if you can find creative ways of getting them there! In the next post, we’ll look at some super-simple integration techniques that are easy to incorporate into our daily lives with children.

*Seed Magazine, July 4 2006: Salk Institute teams gain insight into how synapses separate important neural messages from background noise.

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