Music therapy as procedural support for young children undergoing immunizations: A randomized controlled study

For many young children, a visit to the pediatrician’s office usually elicits one question: “Will I get a shot?”  Vaccinations, though necessary, are often an ordeal, for the child, the parent and the nurse administering the vaccination.  Many children experience severe distress, which can be unintentionally encouraged by parents who display distress-promoting behaviors.  Distressed children can exhibit behaviors, such as resistance, that make administering vaccines difficult for nurses.

A 2016 study examined how music therapy used as procedural support can reduce distress in children who are receiving routine vaccinations.  The researchers randomly assigned 58 children (with their parents) to receive either music therapy in addition to standard care, or just standard care.  

The music therapist provided care in several phases.  While prepping for the vaccination, the music therapist engaged the child in an introductory song, a song to teach deep breathing, explained what would happen during the procedure, and provided additional music.  During the procedure, the music therapist engaged the child in active music, as well as providing non-procedural conversation about music. After the vaccine was administered, the music therapist presented a new instrument and additional songs to the child in order to distract him or her from the stress of the vaccine.  After the child recovered, the music therapist played a goodbye song in order to achieve closure.

Children who received music therapy during the vaccination process showed higher rates of coping behaviors than children who received only standard care.  Children who received standard care only also showed higher distress rates than children who also received music therapy.

Parents of children who received music therapy exhibited lower rates of distress-promoting behavior during vaccination, in comparison to parents of children receiving standard care only.  However, there was no significant difference in rates of coping-promoting behavior between the two groups.

Overall, parents of children in the music therapy group gave positive feedback, many indicated that they would like to receive music therapy again in the future.

By Amber Bruns, MT-BC

Swedberg Yinger, O. (2016). Music therapy as procedural support for young children undergoing immunizations: A randomized controlled study. Journal of Music Therapy, 53(4), 336-363.