Supporting Parent-Child Interactions: Music Therapy as an Intervention for Promoting Mutually Responsive Orientation

By Pasiali, Varvara | Journal of Music Therapy, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Supporting Parent-Child Interactions: Music Therapy as an Intervention for Promoting Mutually Responsive Orientation


Pasiali, Varvara, Journal of Music Therapy


Background: Music therapists working with families address relationship and interpersonal communication issues. Few controlled studies exist in the literature but a growing body of documented practice is emerging. This study makes a contribution by documenting how music therapy supports mutuality and reciprocity in parent-child interactions.

Objective: This study investigated mutually responsive orientation (MRO) behaviors of young children (aged 3-5) and their family members during music therapy.

Methods: Participants were 4 families with low income and history of maternal depression as common risk factors. Data were collected by videotaping sessions, creating field notes and analytic memos, conducting parent interviews and reviewing parent journals. A cross-case analysis using MRO theory as a conceptualizing framework was used for the purpose of data reduction.

Results: Greeting and farewell rituals, and the flexibility of music-based therapeutic applications facilitated development of coordinated routines. Therapist's actions (e.g., encouraging and modeling musical interactions) and bidirectional parent-child actions (e.g., joint attention, turn-taking, being playful) facilitated harmonious communication. Behaviors promoting mutual cooperation were evident when adults attempted to scaffold a child's participation or when children sought comfort from parents, engaged in social referencing and made requests that shaped the direction of the session. The novelty of musical tasks captivated attention, increasing impulse inhibition. Parent actions (e.g., finding delight in watching their child participate, acting silly) and parent-child interactions (e.g., play exploration, shared excitement, cuddling) contributed to positive emotional ambiance.

Conclusion: Music therapy assisted development of MRO within parent-child dyads by providing opportunities to rehearse adaptive ways of connecting with each other. Results of this study may serve as an archetypal model guiding clinical treatment planning.

Keywords: mutual responsive orientation; depression; preventive intervention; parent-child interactions; children 3-5

Young children develop interpersonal skills as a result of family socialization influences within multiple contexts of the parentchild relationship, involving attachment, play, teaching, and care giving interactions. The quality of the parent-child relationship over time influences a child's psychosocial adjustment and contributes to attaining socioemotional milestones. Parent-child relationship(s) constantly evolve as a result of their daily experiences and interactions with each other.

Both the child's and the parent's interactive styles contribute to the quality of their relationship; the influences are dynamic and bidirectional (Lollis & Kuczynski, 1997). If parents, through a history of ongoing mutuality develop a secure relationship with their child, they can influence a child's ability to regulate behavior (Kochanska, Aksan, & Carlson, 2005; Kochanska, Coy, & Murray, 2001). Researchers conceptualized the construct of Mutually Responsive Orientation (MRO) as a system of parent-child reciprocity denoting ''a positive, mutually binding, and cooperative relationship between the parent and the child'' (Aksan, Kochanska, & Ortmann, 2006; p. 833). MRO highlights the interdependent nature of parent-child actions and interactions beyond behavioral descriptions of the parent or the child as individuals.

Aksan et al. (2006) proposed four components of MRO: ''coordinated routines, harmonious communication, mutual cooperation, and emotional ambiance'' (p. 834). Dyads high in MRO develop daily routines and rituals. Those routines are executed smoothly because each party is aware of the mutually-agreed upon procedures and implicit expectations. On the contrary, low MRO dyads either fail to establish routines or their routines and rituals are inconsistent.

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