Think about it, that adrenalin-pumping playlist on your iPod motivates us to keep going with our workout far more effectively than any fitness coach; whilst that mix of soft, gentle piano music can really help us unwind after a long, tiring day. No matter what’s going on in our lives, it’s rare to find a situation that the right kind of music can’t instantly improve.
But what does any of this have to do with ADHD?
Just as music can drive us to work harder in the gym or help us unwind, choosing the right relaxing music for kids can prove to be a powerful tool for helping them to feel calm, focused and relaxed, even in situations where their ADHD is usually at its most prevalent.
Why medication isn’t always the solution
For our kids, living with ADHD can turn what would otherwise be simple, short tasks into spiralling, marathon ordeals in which they’re constantly drawn this way and that by a constant deluge of distractions and stimuli.
As we all know, the most commonly prescribed solution is medication, though that’s rarely the perfect answer to the complex and variegated puzzle that is ADHD.
For some parents, it could simply be a moral objection to medicating their children. For others, it could be that their child’s particular traits don’t quite tick the necessary boxes to qualify for medication; whilst for others yet, it could simply be that their current prescription doesn’t quite cut it when helping their young ones enjoy the kind of calm focus needed to complete tasks such as homework or defined activities.
Whatever the case may be, this is where music comes into its own.
The dopamine effect
Whilst numerous studies over the years have indicated a strong link between certain types of music and improved focus, particularly in children, what few of those studies particularly agree on is the exact reason why.
That being said, there are two reasons which appear to make the most sense.
The first is that listening to music can increase our levels of dopamine, the “happy chemical” which helps with focus and paying attention which is deficient in many people with ADHD. By naturally increasing our children’s dopamine levels, we naturally help increase their level of focus.
The second is the idea that we all have two distinct ways that we pay attention.
Conscious vs. Unconscious attention
In 2013, a scientific study was published noting the distinction between Dorsal and Ventral attention systems, more commonly referred to since as conscious and unconscious attention systems.
The study looked at how our conscious attention system is used to focus our attention on the things that we actually want to focus on. For example, you’re using your conscious attention span right now to read this article. Meanwhile, your unconscious attention system remains alert in the background, scanning for anything that might be important and shifting attention to it.
That’s why even though you’re focusing on reading this article, you’re still likely to be distracted if someone enters the room or moves around behind you.
Like many things, this is likely to be a gift left behind in our DNA from our ancestors who would need to focus on particular tasks like hunting and preparing food whilst being ever mindful of the persistent dangers presented by their environment.
Just because our environment today is far less dangerous doesn’t mean our unconscious attention system ever switches off. It keeps working, zoning in on anything from a noise somewhere in the house that startles us to a co-worker eating so loudly at their desk that the sound of them devouring lunch completely distracts us from working.
In children with ADHD, this unconscious attention system is constantly on the go, alerting them to any number of potential distractions and proving far more effective at demanding their attention when the task they’re attempting to use their conscious attention system isn’t the most exciting thing in the world.
How music helps children with ADHD to focus
This is where music really comes into its own. Along with increasing dopamine levels, it also gives the unconscious attention system something to focus on, thus negating its ability to distract.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any music will do.
Pop the latest Katy Perry record on as your kids are trying to get their homework done or subject them to a blast of Metallica, and you’re highly unlikely to get the results you’re after.
The right notes
As we all know, we all feel differently depending on the type of music we listen to. Something upbeat, funky and lively makes us want to jump out of our seats and dance around.
Something slow, sad and dark makes us feel a little melancholy, whilst a pummeling rock song might make our adrenalin soar.
So when it comes to choosing relaxing music for kids, it has to be the right type. Chose something fairly monotonous, like generic white noise is unlikely to have much effect.
Choose something too energetic like pop or rock music, and your children are more likely to want to get up and move around. This is great if you want to motivate them to exercise but not so much if you’re trying to help them focus.
It’s also worth noting that music with lyrics can be equally as distracting, the singing or rapping being picked up by the conscious attention system instead of serving as something to neutralise the unconscious system.
So, that’s all the types of music that *don’t* work, what about those that do?
Most experts recommend instrumental music, particularly classical, though various types of electronic and ambient music can also work pretty well.
Recommended relaxing music for kids to help with ADHD
The good news is that the web is full of relaxing music playlists that you can use to help your children focus, and many of them are available for free.
Below, we’ll look at just five really good options you can start with, though in time you may find it more helpful to play around with songs, soundtracks and soundscapes to discover which ones your child responds to best, and create your own playlists based on those.
Happy relaxing guitar music for children
Popular Youtube channel OCB (One Conscious Breath) Relaxing Music offers a variety of relaxing soundtracks for children and grown-ups alike but we find this light, airy, acoustic-guitar-based video really works wonders in creating a gentle, relaxed environment conducive to improving focus.
Plus, it sounds all kinds of cheerful, thus increasing those all-important dopamine levels that can make all the difference to children with ADHD.
Classical music for kids
Available on Spotify, this carefully-selected playlist combines no less than 57 classical music tracks that serve as the perfect background soundtrack.
Ranging from the delightfully uplifting to the peaceful aspects of the classical world, this rousing collection is particularly effective for helping to motivate our kids as well as help them focus.
Relaxing classical music
Speaking of all things classical, this is a 67 song playlist, again from Spotify which gently fades into the background, blocking out distractions as our kids’ conscious attention systems begin to work at their optimum best.
Peaceful, creative focus music
Jason Stephenson has amassed over 800,00 YouTube subscribers thanks to his vast array of guided meditations and musical collections designed to aid everything from getting a good night’s sleep to improving productivity.
Among all of his videos, this delicate combination of violin, piano, tympani drum, and bass proves to be particularly effective for engaging with reading, completing homework, or carrying out creative tasks.
Relaxing guitar music
As with many of the creators featured on our list, YellowBrickCinema are well worth checking out in more detail thanks to their large number of videos and playlists combining some of the most relaxing music on the Internet.
This three-hour video, full of gentle, intertwining acoustic guitars is so perfectly peaceful and soothing that it works just as effectively in helping our children study as it does in helping us to relax and unwind after we’ve put them to bed.
Happy instrumental music for kids in the classroom
Last but not least, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention this one; an hour of stirring, uplifting background music specifically chosen for its effectiveness in improving focus and concentration and ensuring that ADHD needn’t be a barrier to our children’s success.
If you want to help your kids focus, try the above music with them. Soon you’ll find them feeling calm and more willing to focus on what’s on their hands.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com