The impact of a music therapy program on parenting capacity and child development outcomes
Jessica Higgins, Julia Oreopoulos, Kate Williams, Lorna Berry, Sally Savage
Families with signs of vulnerability can experience barriers to engaging with support services, which can affect their ability to build their capability as caregivers. This short article outlines an evaluation of the Sing&Grow program, highlighting how this music therapy program positively affects caregivers’ capacity and improves child development outcomes.
What is Sing&Grow and what does it aim to do?
Sing&Grow is an evidence-based music therapy program supporting young children and families to use music for building relationships, increasing community connection and facilitating childhood development outcomes. Through music-based play and reflective discussion, the 8-week program works to:
- build caregiver capacity, awareness and confidence
- improve the quality of parent–child interactions
- enhance social connectedness
- improve children’s resilience, self-regulation, social skills and learning outcomes.
Research has shown that Sing&Grow improves parent mental health, parenting behaviours and children’s social and communication development (Nicholson, Berthelsen, Abad, Williams, & Bradley, 2008; Nicholson, Berthelsen, Williams, & Abad, 2010; Williams, Berthelsen, Nicholson, Walker, & Abad, 2012).
What’s the evaluation about?
Responsive parenting or responsiveness is an essential parenting tool where the caregiver is able to observe and respond promptly and appropriately to a child’s cues, thus supporting children’s cognitive development (Eshel, Daelmans, de Mello, & Martines, 2006). Higher levels of active music making with young children in the home has been linked with important outcomes at the transition to school including prosocial skills and attentional regulation (Williams, Barrett, Welch, Abad, & Broughton, 2015). Therefore, changes in these practices are important mediating pathways for families.
Over two terms in 2019, Sing&Grow partnered with the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to conduct a national evaluation project. Using pre- and post- surveys and follow-up interviews, this evaluation sought to understand how the program affects caregivers’ capacity to be responsive to their children and their sense of parental self-efficacy, as well as the impact on children’s self-regulation and families’ use of music in the home.
Across Australia, 318 families completed pre-surveys in Week 1 of the program, and more than half (57%) of these families also completed post-surveys in Week 8 of the program. Survey questions related to caregivers’ confidence to participate in parenting support or parent–child programs, knowledge of child development and experience of connection with other parents, each on a 5-point Likert scale. Follow-up semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 families.
What are the main findings?
Across the families surveyed, the results showed there were statistically significant improvements in parent-reported:
- parent self-efficacy in discipline and play
- use of music at home
- children’s cognitive self-regulation.
For those families who were below the mean in the pre-survey, the results showed statistically significant improvements in parent-reported:
- parent self-efficacy in nurturance
- parent responsiveness
- children’s behavioural self-regulation
- children’s sociability and pro-social skills
- children’s internalising problems.
In the interviews, families reported increased social connectedness, inclusivity, belonging and sense of confidence. As one parent described:
the social side of it can't be underestimated … we've ended up as a really close-knit group where all the parents are connected ... And it all came out of the Sing&Grow program.
Parents also reported feeling better equipped to respond to their children’s developmental needs. One mother noted:
[if my child is] having a really bad day … and something like changing a nappy is just the hardest task in the world, I use those songs and I'll sing them to her and … she just chills out.
What do the findings mean?
The results of this study support the use of music therapy groups for improving parenting self-efficacy and children’s development. Adding to the results of earlier research (Nicholson et al., 2008), this evaluation shows Sing&Grow demonstrates statistically significant improvements in parent self-efficacy in discipline and play, the use of music at home, and children’s cognitive self-regulation (Williams, Savage, & Nielson, 2019).
Given the known links between these positive parenting attributes, family functioning and child development, these key changes in early parenting are likely to set the scene for positive family trajectories over time. The significant improvements in parents’ use of singing in the home is considered particularly important, given the known associations between this home learning activity and attentional regulation and prosocial skills for children (Williams et al., 2015). The improvements in children’s cognitive self-regulation have positive implications for children’s school readiness, and parents’ use of music in the early years is a strong predictor of later childhood educational and wellbeing outcomes (Williams & Berthelsen, 2019). This evaluation also highlights the Sing&Grow program’s particular effectiveness for families who have the greatest need.
Further reading and related resources
- Australian Music Therapy Association
The Australian Music Therapy Association website provides information on music therapy, as well as resources for registered members.
- Principles for high quality playgroups: Examples from research and practice
This CFCA practitioner resource is intended to provide information on a set of principles that capture the essential core components of a high quality playgroup.
- Playgroups evaluation guide
This CFCA practitioner resource supports sector professionals in planning for the evaluation of supported and community playgroups.
- Eshel, N., Daelmans, B., Cabral de Mello, M., & Marines, J. (2006). Responsive parenting: Interventions and outcomes. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84, 991–998.
- Nicholson, J. M., Berthelsen, D., Abad, V., Williams, K., & Bradley, J. (2008). Impact of music therapy to promote positive parenting and child development. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(2), 226–238.
- Nicholson, J. M., Berthelsen, D., Williams, K. E., & Abad, V. (2010). National study of an early parenting intervention: Implementation differences on parent and child outcomes. Parenting program implementation. Prevention Science, 11(4), 360–370.
- Williams, K. E., Barrett, M. S., Welch, G. F., Abad, V., & Broughton, M. (2015). Associations between early shared music activities in the home and later child outcomes: Findings from the longitudinal study of Australian children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31, 113–124. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.01.004
- Williams, K. E., & Berthelsen, D. (2019). Implementation of a rhythm and movement intervention to support self-regulation skills of preschool-aged children in disadvantaged communities. Psychology of Music, 47(6), 800–820. doi.org/10.1177/0305735619861433
- Williams, K. E., Berthelsen, D., Nicholson, J., Walker, S., & Abad, V. (2012). The effectiveness of a short-term group music therapy intervention for parents who have a child with a disability. Journal of Music Therapy, 49(1), 23–44.
- Williams, K. E., Savage, S., & Nielson, C. (2019). Sing&Grow Final Evaluation Report. Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology. Retrieved from eprints.qut.edu.au/199656/2/48624214a.pdf
Supplied by Sing&Grow Australia.
Putting children first: Changing how we communicate with…
This webinar discussed new research on ways to communicate with parents to improve children’s development and wellbeing.
Playgroups evaluation guide
Planning for the evaluation of supported and community playgroups
Supported playgroups for parents and children
Defines the types of supported playgroups in operation in Australia, and assesses the evidence for their benefits for…