Happy are all the children whose mothers sang or still sing lullabies to them before falling asleep.
An IPSOS survey* commissioned by the association La Semaine du Son revealed worrying practices and figures, prompting UNESCO to elaborate a charter. This was reformulated into a draft decision of UNESCO’s Executive Council, under the title “The importance of sound. Promoting good practice”. The draft was adopted on 2 May 2017 by the 58 delegations that make up the Executive Board.
One in ten babies falls asleep with headphones, 10% of toddlers under two years old fall asleep with earplugs, 21% of the under six years olds use headphones, compared to 74% of 7–12-year-olds and 95% of teenagers.
These findings caused horror among ear, nose and throat doctors and paediatricians. They sounded the alarm, fearing long-term consequences for the physical and mental health of these children, who could suffer from early deafness from the age of 30.
The screen for children under three is unreasonable, but headphones for children under six to eight are just as dangerous.
For lack of time, to avoid being disturbed or during a long car journey, parents would rather put headphones on a crying child than hold it and soothe it. Nursery rhymes that put them to sleep, such as “Do, l'enfant Do” (Sleep, child, sleep), “Fais dodo, Colin mon petit frère” (Sleep, my little brother Colin) or “Au clair de la Lune” (In the moonlight) are no longer sung by parents but played through headphones.
When a mother sings a lullaby to her child, she does so in direct relation and in a soft voice suitable for the infant’s ear. When the same lullaby is played through headphones, the sound is compressed. Therefore, one tends to turn it up louder to have a pleasant feeling.
However, the result is all the more drastic as it can be like a jackhammer, not to mention the isolated situation it creates. The problem is that a baby is unable to tell its parents that the volume is too high, or to pull down its headphones for its own protection. It is forced to endure everything. This leads to premature ageing of the ear.
I personally had a loving mother who used to sing lullabies to us (we were seven children) and I still remember it today.
The lullaby is an important part of the parent-child relationship. With its rhythm and its own musical structure, it has a calming effect. It serves as a means of communication, promotes the bond between parent and child and creates stability if it is repeated every night. This memory is very emotional (gaze, warmth, scent). Cradling is a timeless and universal practice found in many civilisations. The poetic texts of lullabies were probably created not only because of their linguistic content, but also because of the melodic sound of the language, and it is their sinking tones (from high to low, as if you were about to sink into sleep) that enable us to recognise a lullaby in a language we are unfamiliar with. In many lullabies we find the words “sleep”, “rest” and “calm down”. These songs prepare for and usher in rest and sleep. These are very special moments that enable the creation of psychic shells of protection and love. Words, sounds and music are calming elements with anxiety-relieving and comforting effects.
A lullaby is more than the syllables that pass, it is the voice of the mother and father. The lullaby is a form of communication that creates an emotional bond and promotes tenderness, gentleness and the relationship between parent and child. A child who does not experience affection will develop behavioural problems.
Researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, whose motto is “The child first and always”, have found that lullabies also have unexpected healing effects. They are said to help ease the pain of sick children and lower their heart rate. They observed the heart rhythm and pain perception of a group of children under the age of three, some of whom needed a heart transplant, over a longer period of time and found that children who were sung English lullabies such as “Twinkle twinkle Little star”, “Little Fish”, “Little five ducks” or “Hush Little Baby” apparently felt less pain than children who were not sung lullabies.
This is not really surprising, because parents have been singing to their children for thousands of years and have always instinctively known that thereby they help children relax.
The lullaby is an instrumental or vocal genre of music designed primarily to help children fall asleep. From simple nursery rhymes to classical pieces of music such as Brahms’ “Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht – Wiegenlied Op. 49/4” (Good Evening, good Night – Lullaby Op. 49/4), Chopin’s “Wiegenlied in Des-Dur Op. 57” (Lullaby in D flat major Op. 57) up to folk music, the lullaby can be found in all cultures of the world in both classical and folk repertoire, usually sung, sometimes just hummed with the mouth closed.
The positive effects of music on children’s health have been scientifically proven, so why not sing a lullaby to your baby? •
* IPSOS survey, published 29 October 2015
Les berceuses du monde entier (Lullabies from around the world) (Books with CD Volumes 1 and 2). Editions Gallimard, October 2012
Ces jouets qui nous cassent les oreilles (Toys that break our ears). Magazin 60 million de consommateurs No. 477, December 2012.
LE SON magazine TDC (Textes et Documents pour la Classe) No. 1046, 15 December 2012.
“Lullabies reduce pain in children, say academics”; in: The Telegraph of 3 November 2015
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